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The Effects of Commercial Advertising on Children

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In 2004 alone, the U.S. advertising industry spent £7 billion on commercials targeting children — which makes business sense, considering that kids make up a massive consumer base, using their own largely expendable income or influencing their parents’ spending habits. Since the late 1970s, it has become an increasingly controversial issue, with academics identifying several negative effects advertising has on children. These findings have stirred much debate about placing restrictions on advertisers. Psychological

The American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications have been lobbying the federal government to place limits on targeted advertising on the basis that children lack the cognitive ability to differentiate between the persuasive intent in commercials and the media that they are viewing or playing. This means that kids accept what they are seeing in ads as credible and real. A study by U.K. psychology academics Professor Karen Pine and Dr. Avril Nash from the University of Hertfordshire found this problem was compounded because most children’s media consumption occurs in the absence of an adult who could explain the intent behind the content.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids in the U.S. see around 40,000 ads annually on TV alone and are increasingly bombarded with commercials via print media, Internet and in their schools. It’s hardly surprising that when it comes to expressing preferences, many kids want the brands and products that they regularly see through advertising rather than the generic counterpart that costs far less. This is particularly problematic for parents who increasingly make small and large household spending decisions because of their children’s relentless nagging to buy particular products: phenomenon that academics have dubbed as “pester power.” Health

Advertising is adversely affecting children’s health in several ways. The American Academy of Pediatrics identifies obesity, drug, tobacco and alcohol use as the primary health-related effects of advertising on children. Junk-food advertising targeting young children and primarily shown during kids’ after-school and Saturday-morning viewing times spurs children to increasingly request these products that are high in calories and low in nutritional value. Exposure to alcohol and tobacco advertising through sports programming or product placement in movies and video games leads adolescents as young as 13 years old to experiment with these substances at an earlier age. Through regular pharmaceutical advertising on prime time television, children and teens are learning that there is a drug available to cure any problem.

Sex Sells
A long-time mantra of the advertising industry is that “sex sells” and children are being exposed to sexual content through advertising that may be shown during programs and movies classified as suitable for kids’ viewing. A 2005 study published in the journal “Pediatrics” found that this exposure is leading to earlier sexual activity among teenagers. The Australian Council on Children and the Media highlights two studies undertaken at Flinders University that found that idealised thinness depicted in advertising negatively affected the body image and mood of teenage girls, with 13- to 15-year-olds particularly susceptible.

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