TV viewing by children is sought to be regulated through mandatory control by the GOI as well as voluntary restrictions by the media industry. Screen violence, indecent images and dialogs and content language
can have far reaching influence on the tender minds of children who cannot exercise viewer discretion unlike the adults. The very fact that TV medium has access to millions of homes make it a powerful communicator with potential for harm as well as benefits, depending on how it is harnessed. Depicting smoking or drinking on the screen, especially by familiar personalities with name and fame can have an "imitating" influence on youngsters, aspiring to become some body in life.
When it comes to promotion of food products on the small screen, very little restraint seems to be in place, looking at hundreds of advertisements sponsored by manufacturers of processed foods. In the absence of food and nutrition experts working with the monitoring authorities, many advertisers get away with ludicrous claims of benefits in consuming their products. In a startling observation in the UK it was found that kids spending hours in front of the TV end up with bad eating habits by unconsciously believing that those appearing on the ads are good for them. It is a common knowledge that mostly less healthy food products are advertised in the TV while healthy foods rarely receive any publicity at all. There are isolated instances of industries collectively taking up nutritional causes that may benefit their range of products collectively. Promotion of milk and egg is a typical example but these days these ads are becoming conspicuous by their rare appearances.
How can any one blame the kids when their favorite actor sips a fizz drink in style, singing virtues about the product? Can we find fault with the mothers if they believe in the ads that emphatically proclaims about growing tall, sharp and smart if a particular beverage is consumed? Branded potato chips have become the standard bearer as far as the youths are concerned, thanks mainly to the near saturation advertisements in almost all TV channels. RTE breakfast cereals, most of them loaded with sugar appear every day tempting the kids as well as the mothers to replace traditional foods like Idli, Vada, Dosa, Uppuma, Poori or Chapathi. Is there no way out of this quagmire we see ourselves in? Voluntary restraint by the industry is more easily said than done because business has no human face or social commitment, being driven relentlessly by profit motives and one cannot blame them entirely for this as their investments are at stake. If ads about cigarettes and liquors can be banned, why not apply the same yardstick to those food ads which are misleading? Why cant we have a "TRUTH PANEL" consisting of nutritionists and food scientists to arbitrate on ads which do not reflect reality vis-a-vis foods? At least such ads should have nutritional warnings that consuming them can have negative consequences also.
ICMR, under the Ministry of Health, should take the lead in evolving a practical code for food advertisements and evaluation of outlandish claims with practically no scientific basis. Also for consideration is whether to insist on including a nutritional message with each food ad that appears on the small screen. For example when a cola drink is promoted why not include a message that natural fruit juices are best for the health, or including a message about virtues of fresh vegetables in ads promoting potato chips or highlighting the goodness of milk in ads promoting instant coffee. The MFPI of GOI must take up on a priority development of promotional capsules that will stress on good eating habits, nutritional advantages of traditional foods, superiority of fresh fruits and vegetables for good health, virtues of taking milk regularly and similar causes. Promoting food industry at any cost should not be the motto of the GOI and State Governments but how best it can be done, without compromising on the health of the population, should be upper most in their mind while evolving any future strategy.