WHO Warns About Junk Food Ads Hidden In Kids’ Apps Forcing Them To Gorge On Fatty Foods – Is The Digital World Causing Childhood Obesity?

Children are being constantly fed junk food ads through smartphone apps that coax them into consuming these unhealthy snacks, claimed the WHO. The organization has blamed poor regulation of promotional material put forth through the digital medium as one of the primary reasons of unabated rise in childhood obesity despite government efforts to curb the epidemic of the developed world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is onto fast food franchises that are subtly bombarding children with ads about their fattening products through the innocent-looking mobile apps. While the apps themselves are harmless, the WHO is concerned about the continuous barrage of advertisements, which might be one of the reasons behind escalating childhood obesity despite government efforts.

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The WHO is warning parents about the apps their children are using. Interestingly, it is not the content of the apps that the organization finds objectionable, but the advertisements. It strongly feels the apps should have strict regulation about the promotional material they support and put forth through their creations, noted Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director for Europe,

“Our governments have given the prevention of childhood obesity the highest political priority, (yet) we consistently find that children – our most vulnerable group – are exposed to countless numbers of hidden digital marketing techniques promoting foods high in fat, sugar and salt.”

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Essentially, these not-so-subtle advertising techniques are damaging the health of the country’s youth and exacerbating the obesity epidemic sweeping across Europe, reported BBC. The promotional techniques operate without much jurisdiction and with complete impunity, continued Jakab,

“The absence of effective regulation of digital media in many countries, children are increasingly exposed to persuasive, individually tailored marketing techniques that parents may underestimate, or be unaware of.”

What makes the advertisement even more dangerous is the fact that the parents of these impressionable minds remain relatively oblivious to the constant stream of advertisements about unhealthy fast food. Parents might regulate the apps that their children install and access. However, while the content accessed is regulated, and oftentimes censored, these damaging ads slip through the cracks of censorship because they do not legally violate any criteria, she added,

“Often, parents do not see the same advertisements, nor do they observe the online activities of their children; many therefore underestimate the scale of the problem.”

The WHO has trained its guns on the governments for neglecting to keep in check the way these digital platforms are being used to influence the common citizenry, and more specifically, the impressionable young minds, which can be easily swayed with the suggestive messages. The organization also criticized the ways many video bloggers subtly promote junk food. These bloggers, referred to as vloggers, put forth appetizing audio-visual descriptions that make the junk food look and sound very appealing.

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Needless to say, quite a few of these vloggers are paid good money by the fast food retailers to put out a good word about their damaging products. The WHO relied on a recently conducted analysis in the United States about these vloggers. Interestingly, quite a few vloggers were considered to be far more influential and effective at promoting brands than TV or films because they brought with them a level of perceived authenticity and personalization that other channels simply cannot generate.

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The WHO hasn’t spared the insanely popular augmented reality driven game Pokémon Go. It alleges that fast food chains have quickly realized the game’s potential to attract a large crowd comprising mainly of kids, teenagers and young adults. These franchises cleverly welcome kids by making their restaurants important locations or hotspots to hunt the elusive creatures in the game, reported Time. WHO alleged that extensive data, including age, location, likes and preferences of the kids were being collected and analyzed to tailor fast food ads that would invariably result in increased purchases.

[Featured Image by David Young-Wolff/Getty Images]