05/16/2012 12:16 EDT | Updated 07/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Kids Eat Up TV Ads, Then Junk Food

The results of recent surveys of students in the U.S. and Canada link poor eating habits in children to the amount of television they watch. While this isn't new information, it serves as a useful reminder that the advertising industry is indoctrinating children into the long-term negative effects of eating unhealthy food -- effects that range from obesity to early death.

A recent New York Timesarticle describes the results of an American national survey of 12,000 students in Grades 5-10 that link poor eating habits in children to the amount of television they watch.

Similar findings have been made by Canadian researchers. It seems the more television kids watch, the more junk food they snack on and the more unhealthy their general eating habits are. The American study attributes the link primarily to broadcast advertising, which is suspected to influence the food choices youngsters make, even when they're not watching television. Ergo, the ads' syrupy images of saccharine foods stick in the kids' brains and direct the dietary choices they make in the corner store or the school cafeteria.

While this isn't new information and should surprise few people, it serves as a useful reminder of the moral burden borne by parents, the advertising industry and junk food-producing corporations. Kids are being indoctrinated into the long-term negative effects of eating unhealthy food -- effects that range from obesity to early death.

However, given the following, it's unlikely that levels of childhood obesity and bad eating habits will change demonstrably in the near future:

The popularity of Pizza Pockets, chocolate bars and potato chips and their widespread availability in supermarkets, grocery stores and convenience stores; their generally cheaper prices than healthier choices; the fact that nowadays a large number of parents both work full-time and have few free moments to cultivate healthy eating habits in their children; that television and other forms of entertainment media have, to a large extent, replaced parents as the main source of education in their formative years.

Dr. Ronald Ianotti, staff scientist at the American National Institute of Child Health and Prevention Research, recommends parents limiting the amount of time their children spend watching television and ensuring their kitchens are stocked with healthy snacks, such as apples instead of apple-flavoured jelly beans.

That's a good start, we can all agree, but unfortunately, knowing how wily kids can be, who's to say they won't simply buy junk food on their own? Perhaps parents also need to keep tabs on the money their children earn through allowances or part-time jobs, carefully monitoring what they're spending it on.

Also working against increasing children's consumption of healthy foods is the fact that oranges don't taste as sweet as sugar-rich treats such as licorice, so it's hard to get kids to be enthusiastic about "fresh" fruits and vegetables...I mean, the cardboard-tasting genetically modified vegetables widely available in grocery stores and supermarkets. Organic produce is generally more expensive and difficult to afford in our recession and debt-heavy times.

All of these factors lead to a dour outlook regarding the future health of our children, coupled with the fact that government-subsidized pensions and social security programs are slowly vanishing. And our consumer society, and the banks and corporations that rule over it, encourage spending, not saving. A paradigm shift in our collective way of life seems in order, and while unlikely, it's worth exploring, because if we aim for the stars long enough, perhaps one day we'll reach at least beyond the status quo.

In other words, unhealthy food-production corporations and their advertisers can't be made to risk significant reductions of their profit margins for the sake of the long-term health of future generations. But we as citizens of a (royal) democracy are still allowed to fancy the moral advantages of encouraging healthy eating among kids, if only to allay our guilty consciences and let hope fuel productivity in our professional lives, maintaining steady incomes to keep roofs over our children's fattening heads.