Young people are bombarded with lifestyle information: There is constant pressure
*Please note the below text is translated from Norwegian and was featured in the Dagens Medisin medical newspaper. Find the original article written by Leni Aurora Brækhus / Dagens Medisin here.
On 1 March, the National Association for Public Health and Geitmyra Food Culture Centre held a roundtable conference in Oslo focused on the topic of improving the protection of children and young people's health, through stricter regulation of the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks.
Press - Save the Children Norway was one of several actors that participated in this event. Alfred Mestad Rønnestad from Press considers it thought-provoking that there are such strict protocols to stop advertising for alcohol and smoking, but that the food industry is not regulated in the same way when it comes to advertising for unhealthy food and drink.
Currently, the age limit for influencing children through unhealthy commercials or product placement is 13 years old, and this is mostly self-regulated by the food industry through its Professional Committee. Rønnestad points out that the Committee processes very few cases and only some receive judgements.
It is difficult to understand this relaxed approach to advertising for unhealthy food and drinks aimed at children, when advertising for alcohol and tobacco aimed at adults is so stringent.
Children are a much more vulnerable group. They do not have the same critical sense, nor the same references to discern what messaging to trust. This applies to everyone under the age of 18, but especially those who are younger, down to the ages of 13 to 14. They must be protected. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also states that extra consideration must be given to children and extra protection provided for them.
An overload of information
Through Press, Rønnestad is involved in an FHI-led public health project called CO-CREATE. The project "Confronting obesity: Co-creating policy with youth" will investigate how society can facilitate young people choosing a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. He says that in the FHI project he works together with young people from several countries in Europe.
Alongside guidance by the World Health Organization, they believe that advertising of unhealthy food to children and young people under the age of 18 must be stopped. There must be improved practical food and diet education in schools, taxes on sugar, and more activity both inside and outside of school.
Advertising for unhealthy food and drink is a problem, but it is also a problem that children and young people are bombarded with information about how to live - on the internet, on social media platforms such as TikTok, and in other forums - which is not necessarily quality assured, points out Rønnestad.
Young people are constantly under pressure to exercise a lot and look good. But in addition, they are exposed to a lot of content about food, whether it is about strange or strict diets, or advertisements for various products, both high-sugar, high-calorie foods, as well as the opposite, i.e. low-calorie products.
I also notice that when I scroll on TikTok and other social media platforms, there is constant confusion about what is deemed healthy. It is very problematic, which is why we are getting involved in this project.
Do more, talk less
Clinical nutritionist and researcher, Tine Sundfør, points out that it can be difficult to communicate well with young people about diet and health. She says that in parallel with the fact that overweight and obesity have become a public health problem, there has been an "enormous problematization of food".
"Ordinary food is healthy, we don't need to eat special products. Sugar has not become poison. It's about finding a balance", she tells Dagens Medisin. She wants to shift the focus away from 'healthy and unhealthy' and onto 'everyday food and celebratory food'.
"I want us to live with an understanding of the distinction between everyday life and special occasions."
Like Rønnestad, Sundfør points out that there is a lot of information on various channels about what is 'healthy' and 'unhealthy'.
Those who are particularly concerned about this unfortunately often have a strained relationship with food, body and exercise, and are extra receptive to such messaging about food and health. They absorb the information, even though it may actually be aimed at a different part of the population.
And many of those who live with overweight and obesity have pulled down the blinds a long time ago, because they feel so much shame.
Sundfør thinks it's time to do more, and avoid over-information.
Society must take measures that make it easy to identify what is healthy for you, to tackle the bombardment of information on food that young people face.
Teaching children to make good choices
Geitmyra Food Culture Centre, which helped to organize the roundtable, has as its vision to teach all children in Norway to prepare and consume food that is beneficial to them, as well as for the planet.
"It's about knowledge about food and meal preparation. We focus on this so that young people can make positive choices for themselves later in life", says Mona Ek, Communications Manager at the Geitmyra Food Culture Centre.
"They work towards this goal, along with other activities, through physical education at the centre in central Oslo. There, children also learn about raw materials and how to think critically", says Ek. She hopes and believes that such knowledge will be useful when dealing with information and advertising for food that children and young people are exposed to online and via social media.
"I believe that the more you know, the better choices you can make. We also know that children can be influenced. That is why we want to protect them from what is essentially illegal marketing."
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