Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Ethics of food advertisements-Are the celebrities promoting unhealthy foods?

In a unique study in the US where consumers depend very heavily on processed foods and beverages, advertisements provide the most powerful tool for the food industry to persuade the consumers that their products are good and desirable. Interestingly industry has struck a gold mine by tapping the popularity of celebrity stars to endorse their products. Consumers seem to be accepting the words of these celebrity stars as truth though latter do not have any idea about the quality, healthiness or the safety of these products. The unique study carried out in the US as reported in the following report brings out clearly that most food products promoted through this route are unhealthy and one of the reasons for the US to become the capital of obesity is such unethical promotion of sugar sweetened and other unhealthy products by these stars. They make enormous fortunes by putting the lives of their admirers into danger by endorsing such products with least reservation! Reading this story makes on sad about the reckless way the processed food industry is coning the consumer. Read further:

The investigators then catalogued every endorsement between 2000 and 2014 using AdScope, an advertisement database that contains all forms of ads, including television, magazine, and radio. They also searched for official commercials or endorsements on YouTube and in media sources. Endorsements were defined to include a celebrity's participation in a concert sponsored by a product. After sorting the endorsements into different marketing categories, the authors found that 65 of 163 identified pop stars were associated with 57 different food and beverage brands. Food and nonalcoholic beverages were the second-largest endorsement category, comprising 18 percent of endorsements and ranking after consumer goods at 26 percent and ahead of retail at 11 percent. To assess nutritional value of the endorsed food products, the investigators analyzed nutrition information on food labels using the Nutrient Profile Model (NPM), which has been used in other food marketing research studies and provides a score that represents nutrient content. Twenty-one out of 26 food products -- or 81 percent -- were deemed "nutrient poor." The investigators determined a beverage's healthfulness by looking at calories from added sugar. Of 69 beverages endorsed, 49 or 71 percent were sugar-sweetened. Full-calorie soft drinks were the most commonly endorsed in the category. In contrast, water-related endorsements appeared only three times. Food & beverage companies spend $2 billion a year on youth-targeted ads, with American children seeing approximately 4,700 ads each year and teens viewing 5,900 ads per year, according to Institute of Medicine research. There were about 313 million views of the YouTube video versions for food and beverage endorsements associated with celebrities in this study's sample, although unique views could not be counted. Celebrity food endorsements promote higher product preference, and exposure to any kind of food advertising is linked to "excessive consumption," according to research. "These celebrity endorsement deals are often worth millions of dollars each, suggesting companies find them critical for promoting products," said Dr. Bragg. Food and beverage marketing has been identified in a variety of epidemiologic and psychology studies as a significant environmental contributor to childhood obesity. In 2012, over one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service. Although many food and beverage companies have taken voluntary pledges not to target children under 12 years old with certain marketing, teens are not included. "Given the heavy targeting of adolescents and the amount of money they spend on foods and beverages, voluntary food marketing reduction pledges should expand to include teens," said Dr. Bragg. "This also would be consistent with American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, which encourages pediatricians to support local and national efforts to reduce food marketing while also counseling patients to limit screen time." Celebrities also should use their influence to promote more healthful marketing and encourage consumption of healthy foods, the authors suggest. "The popularity of music celebrities among adolescents makes them uniquely poised to serve as positive role models," said Alysa N. Miller, MPH, study co-author and research coordinator in the Department of Population Health. "Celebrities should be aware that their endorsements could exacerbate society's struggle with obesity -- and they should endorse healthy products instead."

Is this true in India too? Of course such practices are more rampant in India than in any other country because the industry knows that Indians adore almost all the cinema artists and for many of them these stars are demi-Gods! Where else in the world one can see temples being dedicated to popular cinema stars except in India? Is it not unfortunate that these so called mega stars never pause for a moment to think about the health risks associated with many products they endorse so enthusiastically for a few quick bucks? While there is reasonable restrictions on dubious claims being printed on a label of a food packet, there does not appear to be in place any credible mechanism to book the culprits making false claims in the electronic media, allowing them to get away scot free. Look at the kids food scenario in India where many big manufacturers promote their patently unhealthy products on television media targeting the kids with tempting toys to attract them. It is time we take corrective action now to stop the industry from indulging in such "corrupt" and unethical practices for improving their bottom line by putting the lives of kids in danger in the long term. Cine artists must evolve a code of conduct for their members in patronizing industry products based on the healthiness of the products as recommended by the food health authorities in the country. This is a social responsibility from which they should not shy away.   


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