Why Junk Food Commercials Are Not as Harmless as We Think They Are

“Watching junk food ads is a potential health risk that can affect everyone”, said Jennifer Harris, one of the leading authors of the study that found that consistent exposure to food images, while watching television, contributes to our unhealthy eating habits. By having these images constantly bombarding us, they affect our consumption of food for up to hours after we have seen them. In this study done in 2009, they found that watching junk food ads made you inadvertently consume whatever food you had in front of you in much greater quantities than those who were exposed to health food ads instead.

When watching junk food commercials, our choice of snack food had nothing to do with the food being advertised. It didn’t matter whether the commercials were for Pop Tarts or Big Macs because either way the ads just made the viewer eat whatever food was already at their disposal. In this way the ads did not drive the consumerism they were meant for, but instead just made kids consume the entire bowl of goldfish in front of them. This type of mindless snacking can greatly increase the amount of calories one eats, for random snacking before mealtimes only satisfies a passing craving and does not really satisfy hunger.

Food ads typically focus on the delectable aspects of the products they are trying to sell by focusing on their color, heat and other appetizing qualities. To further depict their appeal, these ads show the product in the hands of happy people, excited to consume what’s in front of them. This visualization of the consumption of food can then trigger “hedonic hunger”, which consists of thoughts and urges about food even when one is perfectly satiated. This “hedonic hunger” stays with you throughout the day for hours after you have viewed these ads, and ultimately increases your intake of food at mealtime.

We are largely unaware of the harmful affects these ads can have because of the positive ways eating is presented to us in these commercials. The ads imply to consumers that by eating the foods they advertise, we too can be as happy as the actors consuming the products. When a commercial for Ghirardelli Chocolate comes on and the actress slowly savers every morsel of the treat, our mouths begin to water despite whether or not we are actually hungry. This fetishized way of presenting food subliminally triggers us to start to snack on whatever is in front of us.

Health food commercials however do not present their products in the same way, and do not rely on the effects of hedonic hunger to get their point across. When health food commercials were viewed instead, snacking decreased across the board. Even though they were still advertising food, health food ads did not increase peoples snacking habits. Companies advertise food to us in two different ways, and although one might trigger snacking and increase food consumption, it by no means increases consumption of the food advertised.

 

Elena Mehlman

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