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Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Food ads for kids feed on social prejudices

  • Commercials targeting kids reinforce social biases by featuring girls less than boys and showing mothers in traditional homemaker roles, says a study

Advertisements can have a great influence on how children think and behave. But they are not always immune to depicting regressive social norms. For instance, a study of food commercials on children’s TV channels in India finds flaws in how they represent gender.

Such ads feature boys a lot more than girls and portray mothers instead of fathers as the main providers of food at home. One way the commercials do go against Indian society’s biases is by showing kids engaged in sports just as much as studies.

The study, by Ritu Mehta and Apoorva Bharadwaj of Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, looks at 81 ads shown in February 2018 on five popular children’s TV channels—Pogo, Nick, Hungama, Disney, and Cartoon Network. These ads promoted products such as candies, biscuits and beverages among kids of ages 5-12.

The study finds that the main child character in these ads is more often a boy than a girl, reflecting Indian society’s traditional preference for male children. The ads also show the mother as the caregiver at home, deciding what the kids should eat. Just one ad showed the father making the same decision. This aligns with traditional ideas of how household labour should be divided between parents in the kitchen.

The fact that just as many ads showed kids in academics as in athletics is surprising because Indian society favours academic achievements over those in sports. Ads, in this way at least, promote healthier, all-round development of children.

The authors say advertisements should balance their commitment to their commercial agenda with their duties towards the society. Advertising products to kids in a responsible way by showing children of both genders in ads and showing dads contributing to housework will help in their personal growth and bring about a gender-equal society.

Also read: “Food advertising targeting children in India: Analysis and implications"

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