Coke, psoriasis, convenience: how ads have created a global generation of junk food Global Development

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Nepalese schoolgirl Prasiddhika Shrestha lifts a video camera in her aunt’s house and shoots her cousin as they eat up crisps, corn meringue, soda and dalmoth, a traditional lens-based snack.

“What do you like best?” He asks them. “Lay’s chips and coke,” says Diwani, who drinks every day between one and two liters of soft drinks. Rihana contains a package of corn puddings in its daily diet.

Prasiddhika is among the 100 schoolchildren in seven countries whose researchers from University College London have asked to film themselves and the food they eat to study children’s exposure to junk food.

Kiran Dahal, a Nepalese schoolboy, shoots in his school canteen, where children mix and buy unhealthy food at lunchtime. “I bought two (corn meringue), a dalmoth package, a pakoda (fried snack), a chewing gum, and an instant noodle package,” he says, gradually showing them to the camera.

Kiran Dahal’s video diary with video

The students of Laxmi and Nima eat six packets of instant noodles each day. “We see Coke on television during races and football matches. We also see instant noodles in ads, ”they say.

Unhealthy diets are a major cause of ‘non-communicable diseases’ such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. Such diseases accounted for 66% of deaths in Nepal in 2017. This year’s report by the UN Children’s Agency Unicef ​​found that 43% of Nepalese children were either stunted or overweight.

“The unhealthy food situation in Nepal is very worrying,” says Atul Upadhyay of Helen Keller International, a global health organization, as part of the UCL UCL movie study, which is produced in collaboration with the Environmental, Health and Health Research Center. based on Kathmandu. population activities. “Children eat more junk food than eat healthy food.”

Professor Sarah Hawkes, director of the UCL Center for Gender and Global Health, and the project’s senior researcher say the images collected by children in Nepal were similar to those from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Vietnam and the UK.

“All the children we worked with shared a common experience of ubiquitous, strong and, often, unregulated advertising and promotion,” he says.

“Child footage is a live announcement that once they enter school, they and their parents have very little control over what they see and experience, what is on their local high street, or what is happening in the food they buy there. “

Schoolchildren Laxmi and Nima are making a video diary

In addition to films, film scientists examined how each country implemented the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, which include ways to prevent and control non-communicable diseases at national level.

In the case of Nepal, scientists say that policies are lagging behind. There is no tax on sweet drinks or a ban on trans-fatty acids in the food chain.

The findings showed that none of the seven countries subsidized healthy food.

No country has accepted the WHO recommendation on the banning of trans-fatty acids in the food chain. Some progress has been made in Tunisia, where a law on the taxation of sugar-sweetened beverages was adopted in 2017.

Globally, obesity and diabetes are increasing among young people. UNHCR, a refugee agency, warned in October that at least one in three children under the age of five suffered from malnutrition or overweight and each of the two lacked essential vitamins and nutrients. In South Asia, 50% of children are undernourished or overweight. From 2000 to 2016, the number of overweight children aged five to 19 years doubled, from one to 10 to one in five.

Recent studies published in the Lancet medical journal have shown that more than a third of low and middle income countries are affected by a double burden of malnutrition, which means that children who are inadequate in poor countries are also at risk of obesity or too much empty calories unhealthy food.

“Children all over the world face great challenges for healthy eating – they are more surrounded by advertising and the ability to eat” unhealthy “(processed) food than any previous generation,” says Dr. Kent Buse, co-author of the study. complaining that government responses have not kept pace in a rapidly changing food environment.

A group of British students ate lunch on the steps of the National Gallery in London, England. Photo: Robert Alexander / Getty Images

“The prevalence of poor dental health is increasing as sugar consumption, including sweet drinks, increases,” Hawkes adds. “The sweet beverage industry spends huge amounts of money on advertising to the population in low- and middle-income countries. Coca-Cola plans to spend $ 12 billion on marketing in Africa by 2020. ‘ “

Anna Purdie, UCL Program Manager for Gender and Global Health, argues that the growing global crisis and in many countries there is a political vacuum to address it.

“The movies have shown us an incredibly high level of unhealthy food consumption and penetrating advertising – emphasizing that the environment around the world is not” fit for purpose “when it comes to healthy nutrition. It is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to eat and to eat easier, ”he says.

Purdie claims that there were many obstacles to addressing the problem, including the influence of manufacturers and companies over politicians, the lack of donor interest in non-communicable diseases, and politicians’ concerns about the public’s negative responses to regulation. Salt and sugar also remain in traditional dishes.

“The environment around us is becoming increasingly unhealthy, while stories remain firmly rooted in the failure of the individual rather than the failure of our environment,” says Purdie.

“It’s too easy to eat bad and too hard to eat well. The responsibility for this lies not only with individuals. Strong policy changes will be needed … but this means fighting strong and rich companies and often governments that are not interested in seeing this change. “

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