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South African parents' perception of television food advertising directed at children
Da Fonseca, Abel Alexandre Ferreira Claro
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Advertising to children has received regular focus since 1961, yet it remains a controversial topic. When people speak about advertising to children, they are frequently discussing food advertising. Recent concerns about food, nutrition and an increase in childhood obesity have resulted in a resurgence of interest towards advertising to children. Many factors contribute to the rise in childhood obesity; and advertising of unhealthy food to children has been recognised as one such factor. Advertising to children is fraught with ethical concerns. Children are considered to be vulnerable and susceptible to the influence of television advertising, since they do not possess the cognitive ability to comprehend or evaluate the advertisements they enjoy watching. Although there is ample research regarding the advertising of food to children, research on how parents perceive the impact of television food advertising on their children's food preferences, as well as the overall level of parental concern with regard to this issue is limited. This study, aimed at exploring South African parents' perceptions of television food advertising to children, is in context of the widespread concern about TV food advertising, the increasing incident of obesity among children and a number of initiatives in other countries to limit children?s exposure to food advertising. A literature review was undertaken, which gave rise to the identification of the problem statement and objectives. Following the literature review, an empirical study was conducted with the aid of a questionnaire, as measuring instrument, to identify parents' perceptions of TV food advertising to children, in particular, parents with children aged between 3 and 14 years. The empirical study was conducted at a crèche in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa. The empirical research conducted for this study revealed that parents perceive it to be unacceptable for food to be advertised to children during their TV-viewing hours, in particular unhealthy food, and that advertising does influence their children's food preferences and eating habits. Parents believe that although regulations exist, these are ineffective in protecting children against advertisers. Furthermore, although parents are not in favour of banning all food advertising to children, they would like to see a reduction of food advertising to children and stronger restrictions being applied to TV food advertising during children's viewing hours. As an outcome of the parents being exposed to the survey questionnaire, their awareness to the topic will be a lot greater than before. It would be interesting to see if those parents' perceptions have changed as a result of the heightened awareness and therefore it is recommended that the survey be repeated on the same parents within the next year. Furthermore, since the results obtained from this study is a representation of the perceptions of the parents from the geographical area of Vanderbijlpark, South Africa; it is recommended that this survey be conducted in other geographical areas around South Africa.