Thursday, 12 April 2018

Junk science about junk food advertising

A study about 'junk food' marketing was published last October and got a bit of attention in the media with headlines like...

Kiwi kids bombarded with junk food ads - study


Kiwi kids are exposed to 27 junk food advertisements a day, study finds

As you might have guessed, the study looked at 'exposure' to junk food advertising among children in New Zealand. The researchers put a small camera on a bunch of 11 to 14 year olds for a few days to see what they were seeing. The cameras took a photo every seven seconds and provided the researchers with 1.3 million frames of footage.

The study concluded:

Children in this study were frequently exposed, across multiple settings, to marketing of non-core foods not recommended to be marketed to children.

I didn't pay much attention to this when it came out, although I vaguely remember it crossing my radar. I was reminded of it this week when I saw that the publishing company responsible, BMC, had made a video about it.

I had assumed that the study would be junk. I have been following the field of 'public health' for long enough to know that any study that ends with a political call to action is going to be at least partially fraudulent. But I hadn't guessed how bad it was.

The graphic below summarises the findings. The kids supposedly saw more than twice as much marketing for 'unhealthy' food as they did for 'healthy' food. This wouldn't be too surprising because there is relatively little advertising for raw fruit and vegetables. (What would be the point? They're generally homogenous and unbranded.)

So the kids were 'exposed' to 'non-core food marketing' 27 times a day. But it transpires that the vast majority of the 'marketing' was not marketing as most people understand it and it was certainly not 'advertising', as the media reports claimed.

Of the 27 'exposures', 17 involved nothing more that kids seeing food products, often while they were consuming them. Thanks to the BMC video and several news reports, we can see for ourselves how ridiculous this is.

Amazing, isn't it? Every time you think you've seen it all from the 'public health' racket they find a new way of flabbering your gast. Their latest wheeze is to portray kids glancing at the food they are eating as marketing. Children bombarding themselves with junk food advertising! You've got to hand it to them. It's ingenious.

These 'exposures' make up two-third of the total. Most of the rest are signs inside and outside of shops, accounting for a further 7.6 frames per day. The number of actual advertisements seen is incredibly small. The kids saw an average of 0.2 'junk food' advertisements on television per day and an average of 0.6 in print media. No wonder the authors had to widen the definition of 'marketing' so dramatically. If they had actually looked at 'junk food advertising' they would have been forced to admit that kids hardly see any of it.

Once you understand what this study was actually measuring, the conclusions of the authors seem almost comic. In their study, they say...

This research suggests that children live in an obesogenic food marketing environment that promotes obesity as a normal response to their everyday environment.

It doesn't, of course. It shows that these kids, their friends and their families prefer eating 'non-core' food products and that these products are, naturally enough, visible to them while they eat them.

You might forgive the media for assuming that the 'exposures' counted in the study were advertisements, but the researchers clearly knew that they were not. As such, the press release from their university can only be seen as a deliberate attempt to deceive...

New Zealand children are exposed to around 27 unhealthy food advertisements per day, innovative camera research from Otago and Auckland Universities reveals.

... Lead researcher Associate Professor Louise Signal says the study provides further evidence of the need for urgent action to reduce children’s exposure to marketing of unhealthy foods.

“Children in the study were exposed to unhealthy food ads in multiple places via multiple media – including an average of seven unhealthy food ads at school and eight in public places.

“These junk food ads are littering children’s lives,” says Associate Professor Signal, from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington.

'Public health' is so incorrigibly dishonest, it takes your breath away.

The authors note that most of this 'advertising' takes place in the home and at school. Of course it does. That is where kids eat their meals. But for our intrepid 'public health' researchers, this is a shocking finding:

Particularly concerning is the amount of exposure in school, an environment where children’s health is required to be protected under NZ law, and which the ECHO Commission states should be free of such marketing.

It's not marketing, it's packaging! Surely they are not recommending plain packaging for 'non-core' food?

No, wait. They are...

Given that over two-thirds of marketing is in the form of food packaging, consideration should be given to plain packaging in some specific cases (e.g. sugar sweetened beverages) as a highly effective intervention in this arena.

You can't make this stuff up. And, of course, they told the media:

"It is time for government regulation of food marketing."

By the way, if you're a New Zealand taxpayer, you may want to look away now.

The researchers received $800,000 in funding from the Health Research Council.

What a racket.

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