I’ll admit it—the first brand name my son recognized was Starbucks. This probably says something about the coffee habits in our family. However, it also says something about the advertising and branded world we live in. At the time of this recognition my son was about 2 or 2.5 years old. It just goes to show how powerful branded messages and advertising are for even the youngest members of our society.
After reading this disturbing article that explained that the 0-3 year old age range is now the prime target for advertisers, I started to delve more into the research on advertising to children.
What I found was not encouraging. It seems clear that advertisers focus a lot of their time and money on ads for food products targeted to kids, most of which are quite unhealthy. A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that advertising on children’s television (aimed at kids under age 12) had the highest proportion of food ads (50% of all ads) compared to all other genres of TV. What types of foods do these ads promote? Much like you might expect, these food ads targeted toward children primarily focus on candy and snacks (34%), cereal (28%), and fast food (10%).
Unfortunately, this type of advertising works. Studies show that children who watch more ads for food products on television are much more likely to prefer unhealthy foods when offered a choice.
So why is this advertising to children so effective? One factor, of course, is the advertisers are smart—they have harnessed the knowledge of psychology and marketing to be able to market products (especially food) to children in just the right way to make it very appealing to little minds.
Additionally, as we all know, children are relatively impressionable. Young children, in particular, have very little power to resist advertising when they see it. They do not yet have the skills to understand the advertisers’ persuasive tactics.
Lastly, and perhaps most disturbing, advertisers are aware of and have harnessed the power of “the nag factor.” We all know what that means. Kids nag their parents incessantly for products that they’ve seen advertised, usually on TV. One recent study looked at the “nag factor” and found that kids who are more familiar with commercial television characters are more likely to nag their parents for the products associated with those characters.
For me, one of the most problematic aspects of all this advertising to children is that the advertisers are really trying to indoctrinate kids into the idea that life should be all about purchasing and getting material things.
The good news is that parents are not helpless in this battle with advertisers for their children’s minds (and stomachs). Although advertising, particularly related to food items, is very persuasive to children, parents can be quite persuasive too as long as they promote a constant message of healthy food choices.
In a new study just published, several researchers considered the role of parents’ messages in the food choices made by children ages 3-5 just after watching advertising for food products. In one part of the study, children watched a commercial for French fries and were then given the option to choose French fries or a healthier food option for a snack. Parents looked on and one group was told to encourage their children to make the healthier choice, while the other group of parents was told to remain neutral about the food choice. When parents remained neutral, 71% of the children chose the French fries over the healthy option. However, when parents encouraged a healthier choice, the percentage of kids choosing French fries dropped to 55%. While this is not a dramatic drop, it does show that parental influence does have power, even in light of direct advertising for unhealthy products.
I think it’s unlikely that this type of marketing will end or even slow down, but this research offers encouragement that we as parents can influence good choices by our children, as long as we adhere to a clear, consistent message. It is obvious that advertising has a strong impact on children, so limiting children’s exposure to commercials will most likely make your children’s choices better in the long run and perhaps your life a little easier as a parent (e.g., less nagging).
Additionally, as children get older, I could see it being helpful to explain to them how advertisers play their game. If kids can understand why and how advertising is so persuasive, they might be more likely to resist it.
With my older son, I have begun explaining how some things we see on TV or the internet are a “trick.” The people making the product are trying to “trick” us into spending money on something that is either unhealthy or useless (like a junky toy). I have been reminding him of times when he bought a cheap toy and was bored with it after a day or two. These lessons are starting to sink in but it is an ongoing battle with advertising.
Here are some good resources available for helping kids learn media literacy:
You may have friends who are taller, heavier and more muscular than you. We all grow and develop at different rates. Lots of boys don’t reach their adult weight until they are over 18.
You can check whether you’re a healthy weight by using our healthy weight calculator. If you are underweight, your GP (*pediatrician), practice nurse or school nurse can give you help and advice.
There may be an underlying medical cause for your low weight that needs to be checked out. Gut problems like coeliac disease, for example, can make people lose weight.
Read about other medical problems that can cause unexplained weight loss.
Or perhaps you haven’t been eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Whatever the situation, if you’re concerned about your weight or your diet, the best thing to do is tell someone. There’s a lot that can be done to help.
Why Being a Healthy Weight Matters
Being underweight can leave you with no energy and affect your immune system, meaning you could pick up colds and other infections more easily.
If your diet is poor, you may also be missing out on vitamins and minerals you need to grow and develop.
The good news is that, with a little help, you can gradually gain weight until you get to a weight that is healthy for your height and age.
Healthy Diet for Teen Boys
It’s important that you gain weight in a healthy way. Try not to go for chocolate, cakes, fizzy drinks and other foods high in fat or sugar. Eating these types of foods too often is likely to increase your body fat, rather than building strong bones and muscles.
Instead, aim to eat three meals and three snacks a day. You should be having:
- Plenty of starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes (choose wholegrain versions or potatoes with their skins on if you can)
- At least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day
- Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
- Some milk and dairy food
We all need some fat in our diet, but it’s important to keep an eye on the amount and type of fat we’re eating. Try to cut down on the amount of saturated fat you eat – that’s the fat found in sausages, salami, pies, hard cheese, cream, butter, cakes and biscuits.
Cut down on sugary foods, such as chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits and sugary soft drinks.
Strength training can also help to build strong muscles and bones. Find out how to increase your strength and flexibility.
Boost Your Calories
To bump up your energy intake in a healthy way, try these tips:
- Make time for breakfast. Try porridge made with semi-skimmed (*1% or 2% milk) milk and sprinkle some chopped fruit or raisins on top. Or how about eggs on toast with some grilled tomatoes or mushrooms?
- Crumpets, bananas or unsalted nuts all make good snacks.
- A jacket (*baked) potato with baked beans or tuna on top makes a healthy lunch and contains both energy-rich carbohydrates and protein. Adding cheese will provide calcium.
- Try yoghurts and milky puddings, such as rice pudding.
- Have a healthy snack before bed. Cereal with semi-skimmed milk is a good choice (choose a cereal that is lower in sugar), or some toast.
Teen Boys and Eating Disorders
Sometimes there can be other issues that stop you from eating a healthy diet.
If you feel anxious when you think about food, or you feel you may be using control over food to help you cope with stress, low self-esteem or a difficult time at home or school, then you may have an eating disorder.
People with eating disorders often say they feel that their eating habits help them keep control of their lives. But that’s an illusion: it’s not them who are in control, but the eating disorder.
If you feel you may have an eating disorder, help is available.
Tell someone: ideally your parents, guardians or another adult you trust.
The eating disorders charity b-eat has a Youthline, where you can get advice.
Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.
New guidelines issued yesterday by experts from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend introducing peanut-containing foods to babies as early as possible as a way to lower their risk of developing a peanut allergy.
The recommendations reverse previous advice to add peanuts later, but are driven by new scientific research that showed early introduction of peanuts could cut allergy development by 81%. The guidelines are tailored for a child’s risk for peanut allergy, as follows:
- Infants at HIGH risk for peanut allergy (have severe eczema, egg allergy or both)
- Add peanut-containing foods as early as 4 to 6 months
- Consult with health care provider prior to adding peanuts – specialized testing may be needed
- Infants with mild or moderate eczema
- Add peanut-containing foods around 6 months
- Infants without eczema or any food allergy
- Add peanuts to infant diet as appropriate/desired
- IN ALL CASES, start babies on other solids before adding peanut-containing foods
If you have specific questions or concerns about introducing your child to peanuts, speak to your pediatrician or family doctor.
Processed foods aren’t just microwave meals and other ready meals. The term ‘processed food’ applies to any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way, either for safety reasons or convenience. This means you may be eating more processed food than you realise.
Processed foods aren’t necessarily unhealthy, but anything that’s been processed may contain added salt, sugar and fat.
One advantage of cooking food from scratch at home is that you know exactly what is going into it, including the amount of added salt or sugar.
However, even homemade food sometimes uses processed ingredients. Read on to find out how you can eat processed foods as part of a healthy diet.
What Counts as Processed Food?
Most shop-bought foods will have been processed in some way.
Examples of common processed foods include:
- Breakfast cereals
- Tinned vegetables
- Savoury snacks, such as crisps (*potato chips)
- Meat products, such as bacon
- “Convenience foods”, such as microwave meals or ready meals
- Drinks, such as milk or soft drinks
Food processing techniques include freezing, canning, baking, drying and pasteurising products.
Dietitian Sian Porter says: “Not all processed food is a bad choice. Some foods need processing to make them safe, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurised to remove harmful bacteria. Other foods need processing to make them suitable for use, such as pressing seeds to make oil.
“Freezing fruit and veg preserves most vitamins, while tinned produce (choose those without added sugar and salt) can mean convenient storage, cooking and choice to eat all year round, with less waste and cost than fresh.”
What Makes Some Processed Foods Less Healthy?
Ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are sometimes added to processed foods to make their flavour more appealing and to prolong their shelf life, or in some cases to contribute to the food’s structure, such as salt in bread or sugar in cakes.
This can lead to people eating more than the recommended amounts for these additives, as they may not be aware of how much has been added to the food they are buying and eating. These foods can also be higher in calories due to the high amounts of added sugar or fat in them.
Furthermore, a diet high in red and processed meat (regularly eating more than 90g a day) has also been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. Some studies have also shown that eating a large amount of processed meat may be linked to a higher risk of cancer or heart disease.
What is Processed Meat?
Processed meat refers to meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. This includes sausages, bacon, ham, salami and pâtés.
The (*UK) Department of Health recommends that if you currently eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, that you cut down to 70g a day. This is equivalent to two or three rashers (*strips) of bacon, or a little over two slices of roast lamb, beef or pork, with each about the size of half a slice of bread.
However, it’s important to remember that the term “processed” applies to a very broad range of foods, many of which can be eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
How Can My Family Eat Processed Foods as Part of a Healthy Diet?
Reading nutrition labels can help you choose between processed products and keep a check on the amount of processed foods you’re eating that are high in fat, salt and added sugars.
Adding tinned tomatoes to your shopping basket, for example, is a great way to boost your 5 a day. They can also be stored for longer and cost less than fresh tomatoes – just check the label to make sure there’s no added salt or sugar.
Most pre-packed foods have a nutrition label on the back or side of the packaging.
These labels include information on protein, carbohydrate and fat. They may provide additional information on saturated fat, sugars, sodium and salt. All nutrition information is provided per 100 grams and sometimes per portion.
How Do I Know if a Processed Food is High in Fat, Saturated Fat, Sugar or Salt?
There are guidelines to tell you if a food is high or low in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar. These are:
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g (*rougly half an ounce per 3oz)
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g (*about a tenth of an ounce per 3oz)
High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g (*100g is about 3.5oz)
Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g
High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g (*a little under 3/4 of an ounce per 3 oz)
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
For example, if you are trying to cut down on saturated fat, try to limit the amount of foods you eat that have more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g.
If the processed food you want to buy has a nutrition label that uses colour-coding, you will often find a mixture of red, amber and green. So, when you’re choosing between similar products, try to go for more greens and ambers, and fewer reds, if you want to make a healthier choice.
However, even healthier ready meals may be higher in fat and other additives than a homemade equivalent. That’s not to say that homemade foods can’t also be high in calories, fat, salt and sugar, but if you make the meal yourself, you’ll have a much better idea of what’s gone into it. You could even save yourself some money, too.
When Cooking Food at Home…
If a friend or relative has an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, you might want to encourage them to speak to someone about it. You could go with them for support if they want you to.
But there are other things you can do. You’re already doing a great job by finding out how to help them – it shows you care.
You may have noticed your friend has changed. They may no longer go out or want to be included in things.
Keep trying to include them, just like before. Even if they don’t join in, they will still like to be asked. It will make them feel valued as a person.
You can also try to build up their self-esteem, perhaps by telling them what a great person they are and how much you appreciate having them as a friend.
Try not to give advice or criticism. Give your time and listen to them. This can be tough when you don’t agree with what they say about themselves and what they eat.
Remember, you don’t have to know all the answers. Just being there is what’s important. This is especially true when it feels like your friend or relative is rejecting your friendship, help and support.
How are eating disorders treated?
Treatment for eating disorders varies around the country. Different types of help may be offered depending on where you live.
Treatment includes dealing with the emotional issues as well as the physical, but this must be done slowly so your friend or relative is able to cope with the changes.
Treatment will involve your friend or relative talking to someone about the emotional difficulties that have led to their eating disorder. It will also explore their physical problems, general health and eating patterns. Help with eating and putting on weight is usually not enough.
The earlier your friend or relative embarks on the treatment programme and the more they engage with it, the better their chances of making a good recovery.
Will they have to go into hospital?
Most people with eating disorders are seen as outpatients. This means they visit the hospital – for example, one day a week. In severe cases, they might need to visit the hospital more often, or be admitted to hospital for more intensive support and treatment (known as inpatient care).
Should I visit them in hospital?
This depends on what your friend wants, how you feel and what the treatment centre allows. Let them know you’re thinking of them and would like to visit them. If this is not possible, you can always write to them or call to let them know you’re still there to support them.
Can people be forced to get help for eating disorders?
If your friend or relative has lost a lot of weight, they may be in danger of starving themselves and developing serious complications. They may not be able to think clearly and may refuse life-saving treatment.
In these circumstances, their doctor may decide to admit them to hospital for specialist treatment. This can only be done after the doctor has consulted colleagues and they agree with the doctor’s decision. This is called being sectioned and it is done under the rules of the Mental Health Act (*in the UK).
Will they be cured when they come home?
Your friend or relative will still need your support. Most people with an eating disorder do recover and learn to use more positive ways of coping.
But recovery from an eating disorder can be very difficult and can take a long time. Part of your friend may want to get better, while the other part might be very scared about giving up the eating disorder. They might think, “I want to get better, but just don’t want to gain weight.”
They will probably have good days and bad days. During times of stress, the eating difficulties may return. Changing the way people with eating disorders think and feel is never easy and it takes time.
The eating disorders charity beat has a dedicated online space for anyone who is supporting someone with an eating disorder.
Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.
Resources in the US:
We see a ton of children and their families with a variety of food allergies here at Lemond Nutrition. It is quite a life-encompassing ordeal living with a food allergy. Add onto the fact that you are a child, and each year there is a holiday that involves a kid-centered celebration that exposes them to all kinds of exposure risk and you’ve got a recipe for heartache and challenges for these folks. Don’t let another child dread Halloween. Let’s band together and make things better for them!
The Teal Pumpkin Project is a growing initiative that was started by the Food Allergy Research & Education organization that encourages people to offer non-food treats at Halloween. The process is simple:
1) Take the pledge. By doing this, you will add your home address to a national database that allows families to know who is offering non-food treats.
2) Provide those non-food treats and let people know you are participating by placing a teal pumpkin outside your home and hanging a free, printable sign announcing your offering.
The cool thing is that you don’t have to choose food or non-food giveaways – you can do both like we are doing in our home. There is a sign that says you are providing both or just the non-food items. The choice is yours.
Let us all support children and their families this Halloween by allowing them to enjoy Halloween like their friends. The more homes out there that offer options for them, the more fun they will have this holiday season. And a bonus for your family! This is such a great thing to teach our children by participating in an initiative like this – that it’s important to think of others. For more information on The Teal Pumpkin Project and other great things that the Food Allergy Research and Education organization is doing, visit http://www.foodallergy.org.
May you have a Happy and safe Halloween! And remember, Halloween is only one night a year. Let your kids enjoy their treats.