Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

From bonny to blubbery


I never thought advertising fast food to kids could possibly be a problem until my son started religiously reciting advertising jingles...

"Oooo, eight hundred, eighty three eighty three eighty three," I hear him hum as he sets Spiderman at High Monkey's throat.

"Mum, what are Mashies?" he'll enquire.

"Mum, maybe you should buy me some chocolate ice-cream," he likes to whine.

Even my daughter, at 18 months, recognises "chippies!!!" when she sees them on any medium.

I was once so scathing of those fighting to keep junk food off TV screens. I remember interviewing various spokespeople - usually Green Party politicians - on their quest to rid the world of fast food advertising during children's' programming, and secretly finding them bonkers.

Now I'm not so sure.

I still take a fairly relaxed attitude to food, reasoning that moderation in all things is the key. So, when parents around me are breaking out the hummus coated wheatbreads, I usually have the Krispa biscuits and raisins; and while other parents usually have fruit kebabs and mandarins on offer at a party, I generally have a table fairly well stocked with pure rubbish - much to the parents' horror (and the kids' delight).

I have reasoned that I can - and do - stop my children over indulging on a regular basis. Indeed, my son can take or leave any food after a point and appears fairly slim no matter what is fed to him.

My daughter eats long after she's finished if what's on offer is fatty or sugary enough - but at this point I feel confident enough to ensure I can stop her at the appropriate moment.

I hope I can stop her being a fat child, like I was, and will actively promote exercise or any other tool at my disposal to do so (even though I played heaps of sport as a child and teenager and still became fat).

But the unknown in the equation is just how much sway those amazing advertising campaigns will have on our children once they leave our state sanctioning of their food and begin to make their own choices.

I am absolutely horrified at the amount of advertising for fast food that is liberally interspersed through programming at certain times of the day - it really is a fright for those who are not familiar with it.

While parents do have to remain vigilant, I wonder how insidious these marketing campaigns are.

And yet, I'm not sure banning them outright is the answer. If recent evidence from overseas is to be believed, a better strategy might be a marketing campaign around eating healthy. Science Daily reports this week that a programme called The Switch - 'Switch what you Do, View, and Chew' - has been shown to be capable of promoting children's fruit and vegetable consumption and lowering 'screen time' - TV viewing time - in a group of children studied by Iowa State University researchers.

As Science Daily says, "The Switch programme features three components, Community, School and Family. The Community component is designed to promote awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles using paid advertising (such as billboards) and unpaid media (such as letters to the editors of print publications). The School component reinforces the Switch messages by providing teachers with materials and methods to integrate key health concepts into the school day. Finally in the Family component, participating families receive monthly packets containing behavioural tools to assist families in altering their health behaviours."

More about it here.

Nanny state for sure, but at least it does something positive to combat that other pernicious influence in our lives - advertising for things we really don't need.

All this in a week where Australian researchers have declared that a quarter of all Australian children are obese - despite the fact that the numbers of kids participating in sport has surged.

These are statistics that are bound to be mirrored here in New Zealand, where schools in particular are desperately trying to cut back on fat and get kids moving. But just how successful will it be?

And once more we have to ask, why are schools being expected to tackle issues that really should be the domain of parents?

Even parents - like myself - who aim to keep everything in balance and still have to hear the regular whine of children who - seemingly by osmosis - receive the less-than-subtle messaging of a thousand clever fast and junk food advertising campaigns?

- Dita De Boni

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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