Junk Food Advertisements

So I was walking by the cereal aisle of my local supermarket and had stopped to look at the classic KoKo Krunch and Honey Stars. A thought then struck as I looked at the cartoony characters, what makes junk food appealing to children and how are they marketed in Singapore?

In the opening video above from the documentary SuperSize Me, I had a feeling of concern as it highlights a situation in America where junk food ads are highly present in children TV channels (e.g. cartoons) and a more developed coverage for these issues can be seen in a separate documentary, Fast Food Babies.

Some of the concerns shared by the health authorities in Singapore involves the development of dietary habits from young that may involve a preference for processed foods and that these habits may be harder to change once enforced. In combination with the rising obesity trends, a 2015 guideline for the food industry was set via the efforts of the Ministry of Health, Health Promotion Board and the Advertising Standards of Singapore [1].

The protection these guidelines served are worthy of praise for it enables parents to have a better role in guiding their children’s dietary choices. This is in stark contrast of the food marketers having a stronger influence than parents in what is known as the ‘nag factor‘, when parents have to comply with their child’s request [2]. This occurs mainly due to neglect or oversight about the programs or commercial in children TV shows.

Cereal Commercials

From my personal experience growing up watching television, I really thought that cereal was needed in a healthy breakfast. The advertisement above was really catching I can recall, partly due the short story and the ending phrase “A great chocolaty taste!“.  Speaking of cereals, I would like to take this opportunity to showcase the different types of commercials I watched while growing up.

Cookie Crisp was another cereal brand that I perceive was this fun and enjoyable product – based on the commercial..  I mean the idea of eating a bowl of cookies with milk for breakfast was a like a dream come true. Interestingly however, it was rather unappealing in its taste, it seem rather hard and mild and I had expected something more of a Chips More cookie.

But if we are talking about cereals, Oreo O‘s was definitely one that had kept me wanting for more. It mixes the crunchy cereal and soft marshmallows with an ecstasy of sweetness while the thick, creamy and cold HL milk had made it one of the best then, in my opinion.

Cereal companies were by far more consistent with their advertisements and they understand how best in appealing to the younger audiences – They definitely had me convinced.


But cereal companies don’t deserve the spotlight alone, the confectionery companies had done a great job as well. Most noticeably in their packaging and the costs as well. Yupi Gummy Candy, M&Ms and Smarties are great prime examples for their utilisation of bright colours to make it more interesting.

Yupi Gummy Candy however, had taken it further to customise many of its products in the form of pizzas, hamburgers, hot dogs, dinosaurs, worms, cola bottles and bears. The shapes and the exquisite use of different flavourings really added a sense of fun and excitement to these delights. They were also a favourite to be used in gifts or awards for children, likely adding an association of positivity or happiness.

Cadbury had done a splendid job in its marketing as well. Taking the two videos below as reference, the first was done as a clay-animation. The main catch of the theme was the bubbly tune, the fantasy of a chocolate world and the ever important …”Wouldn’t it be nice?” as the ending phrase. In all honestly, I was a Cadbury fan a few years back, it was definitely creative of them to get the idea out.

Considering the quirky nature of the next video, its oddity had made it quite popular back in 2009. I can even recall a classmate mimicking the ‘eyebrow dance‘. To be frank, the ad that has nothing to do with chocolates and I believe it to be a marketing strategy by not placing an emphasis on the product, consumers would more or less focus on the message or the idea behind it. It could also be an unsuspecting factor as well, though these are just speculations.

Oreo’s “Twist Dip Dunk

Kraft’s Oreo! Delicious as it was, the idea of the product was its prime selling factor. Taking the commercial as reference, one similarity is apparent among other ads we have seen and it is the association of positivity with said product.

The video’s appeal lies in the joyous tune, the key sound effects being the crunch and laughter, but above all else is the children factor. It contributes to that warm fuzzy feeling inside when you look at something adorable and one that you wouldn’t mind re-watching again. These feelings associate itself with the product that could influence how you look at Oreos.

In addition, the “Twist Dip Dunk” instructions on the back of the product’s packaging instills a sense of simplicity that makes it memorable. Upon which, consumers may make their own variations to how they consume Oreos – either by eating the cream first or biscuits later, eating it whole or dipping in milk. Yet all of these are just my experiences alone, but it tells a convincing story of how junk food ads are perceive by the children who grew up watching them.

The Mentality Impact

According to the American Psychology Association (APA), the amount of time that a children spends watching television can be associated to a likelihood in being obese. This is due to a shift in preference concerning diets and requests – for foods high in calories, but low in nutrients, when exposed at such an early age. Other concerns may include a dissatisfaction in body image and eating disorders [3].

In an international study of 11 countries done between 2007 to 2008 by a collaboration between 13 independent research groups, they had analysed the rate of non-core (high in fat, sugar or salt) food advertising during peak hours of children viewing times in 3 main television channels. The study had also excluded any holiday periods to only showcase the average broadcasting period.

The results gathered from the analysis had showed that, an average of 5 ads can be observed at any given hour, fast food and confectionery advertisements were particularly dominating and that more than 50% of food advertisements are based on non-core products in all the countries analysed [4]. Understanding that when a child is bombarded with these types of commercials, and then lack the awareness of the ad’s persuasive intents, it can become a very exploitative process.


So referring back to the 2015 guideline set by the health authorities in Singapore in the regulation of these types of ads, it was a good move to stop the onset of obesity in this country. However, this but one factor, the study cited above had shown that children may not necessarily watch the TV channels targeted for them and thus, proper parental guidance is required for fast food ads do permeate through other channels.

In the day and age of technology where screen time is so prominent, more youths that are growing today will only get more familiar with technology. With advertisements present not just via televisions but on online platforms, there needs a better awareness and education on this situation. Alternatively, we can better market core food products that possess a higher nutrient density or promote better lifestyle choices in utilizing the age of technology towards the benefits of health. In either way, we can all play a better role in society in guiding one another and to stop selling garbage to our children.

Making Choices – Healthy Living Every Day



  1. Singapore Ministry of Heath. 2015. Fact Sheet: Food Advertising Guidelines [online]. Available from: https://www.moh.gov.sg/content/dam/moh_web/PressRoom/Highlights/2014/COS%202014/Food%20Advertising%20Update%20Highlights.pdf [Accessed 7 May 2016].
  2. John Hopkin’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. 2011. The Nag factor: How do children convince their parents to buy unhealthy foods? [online]. Available from: http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2011/borzekowski-nag-factor.html [Accessed 7 May 2016].
  3. American Psychological Association. 2016. The impact of food advertising on childhood obesity [online]. Available from: http://www.apa.org/topics/kids-media/food.aspx [Accessed 7 May 2016].
  4. Bridget. K., Halford. C.G. J., Boyland. J.E., Chapman K., Castano B.I., Berg. C., Caroli. M., Cook. B., Coutinho G.J., Effertz T., Grammatikaki. E., Keller. K., Leung R., Manios Y., Monteiro R., Pedley C., Prell H., Raine K., Recine E., Majem S.L., Singh S., Summerbell C. 2010. Television Food Advertising to Children: A Global Perspective. NCBI [online]. September 2010. 100(9). 1730 – 1736. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920955/ [Accessed 7 May 2016].



FBT: Approving Food Additives (FDA)

So in this week’s installment of the Food Basket Topics, I was doing a little project for a school based assignment about the Additive Approval Process. Upon which, I stumbled into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website for further details. In their Q&A page for industries, the process can be summarised into companies filing for a petition with an extensive assessment of the additive’s safety via the company, FDA’s scientists and external bodies [1].

The entire process can average out to 2 years depending on the additive and two questions that occurred was to me was, would companies wait 2 years for an additive to be approved for use? Could there be anyway this process might be exploited? A quick intro to the topic can be seen in WebMD’s video below.

WebMD mentioned in the video above about the Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) status that allows companies to conduct their own research and if approved, they can bypass the stringent default process for additives.

In an article by Martha Rosenburg, an investigative reporter from the HuffingtonPost, she had mentioned that at times food companies or additive makers can bypass both the GRAS and additive approval process of the FDA by making self-declaration if its safety – even more so if the additives are imported overseas [2]. This poses a concern, if the FDA is unaware, these additives can appear in food products with or without labeling, much less warnings and can cause unreported reactions in consumers.

The GRAS Status

The creation of the GRAS status can be traced back to the 1958 Food Additives Amendment act which was formed when the realisation occurred that not all additives required strict safety assessments. This was to better utilise the FDA’s resources than having common ingredients such as a salt or vinegar to be approved. The notion of was also brought out how can a food additive be defined, the first was any substance that affects the characteristic of a food product either directly or indirectly and the other as a substance generally recognised by scientific experts as safe or with long experience with their common usage [3].

But what is the GRAS approval process like? In 1962, the FDA has contracted with the Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO) to select qualified scientists in reviewing the information of the GRAS ingredients. The scientists’ evaluations are kept independent from FDA and other bodies that are involved in conducting safety reviews for these substances. The FDA then uses this data and comments from the public about its proposal and approve the substance as GRAS if its strongly supported [ibid].

The few concerns over this process lies that not all the substance in the GRAS list may have had went through the procedure above if the manufacturer’s independent conclusion had claim if it was GRAS. Secondly, the petition of a GRAS status need not necessarily go through the reviews of the FDA’s agency with the LSRO’s scientists and can be done with the FDA itself. Lastly, the FDA had proposed for the process to be a notification procedure rather than a affirmation petition, this means companies would voluntarily report to the FDA for a final conclusion of the GRAS status [ibid].

In a 2014 report by the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC), they had criticised the FDA’s handling of the GRAS status that despite their strict assessment for the procedure, the fact that it is voluntary for manufacturers had resulted in a deterioration of the quality of risk and safety reviews. Made worse when despite the FDA’s rejection of a GRAS status, it does not mean that it is not allowed to be marketed. This can be evident from their study with 56 companies pertaining to undisclosed GRAS safety assessments for 275 chemicals. Upon which, were unable to provide the GRAS safety studies with 21 not responding at all [4].

The report’s concerns can be summarised in this video as well.

Voluntary Notification

I had brought up a question earlier in this article, “Would companies wait 2 years for its approved used?” This creates difficulties for the manufacturers for, in that time, the potential profits of the product would be on hold, as with investments and additional costs incurred for its assessments. A concern evident in the report by the NDRC when the companies mentioned why they would forgo the FDA’s review. Others include an additional dietary review included or a misinterpretation of the status – needing both efficacy and a toxicology study [ibid].

In addition, some bias may hold if the companies are held responsible for providing their own safety/ risks assessments. It lacks the independent body present when the FDA is reviewing it or via its initial petition as a food additive [ibid].

Another criticism was made in Kimberly Kindy’s article in the Washington Post of the evaluation of safety studies such as Marlows Food for mycoprotein, a protein-rich fungus. Not all studies had to be cited completely and its approval had resulted in severe allergic reactions to the protein. The FDA had mentioned that the continued responsibility was on Marlows and not theirs [5].

A different case was a company Kemin, based in Iowa and its green tea powder containing Epigalocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) which had bypass the FDA as a GRAS status despite Kao Coporations’s rejection of EGCG from the FDA’s toxicologist scientists indicating its toxicity in various organs like the kidneys and liver [ibid].


The takeaway message is that despite the FDA’s rigorous studies and procedures readied in its petition application or GRAS reviews, the organisation needed a larger body of manpower and resources to take on the growing influx of food additives into the market.

I argue that a very large problem lies with transparency of additives not known and recorded by the FDA than the weak or potentially bias claims made by the food manufacturers themselves. This is because if an adverse reaction to happen, to however small the inflicted maybe (in the case of allergies), product recalls would be harder if these ingredients aren’t steadily tracked down.



  •  FDA. 2011. Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers About the Petition Process [online]. Available from: http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/ucm253328.htm#answerA [Accessed 23 April 2016].
  • Rosenburg. M. 2016. FDA Loophole Allows Potential Dangerous Chemicals In Food [online]. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/martha-rosenberg/fda-loophole-allows-possi_b_9182800.html [Accessed 23 April 2016].
  • FDA. 2015. History of the GRAS List and SCOGS Reviews [online]. Available from: http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GRAS/SCOGS/ucm084142.htm [Accessed 23 April 2016].
  • NRDC. 2014. Generally Recognised as Secret : Chemicals Added to Food in the United States [online]. Available from: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/safety-loophole-for-chemicals-in-food-report.pdf [Accessed 23 April 2016].
  • Kindy. K. 2014. Food additive on the rise as FDA scrutiny wanes [online]. Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/food-additives-on-the-rise-as-fda-scrutiny-wanes/2014/08/17/828e9bf8-1cb2-11e4-ab7b-696c295ddfd1_story.html [Accessed 23 April 2016].


    FBT: Soylent

    Welcome to the first installment of “Food Basket Topics“, with this week’s topic being Soylent. Have you ever wondered what if an ‘all-rounder’ food could exist, containing all the nutrients and energy you need, transportable and maintained at an affordable cost? Wouldn’t it be a solution to the world’s food security and hunger problems? Rob Rhinehart, creator of a powdered drink called Soylent, have been taking a brave venture into that idea.

    Continue reading FBT: Soylent