‘Son, what will you study in high school,” goes this honeyed voice over the car radio.
“Science and math, Mama’, answers a well-behaved sounding voice.
The conversation goes on.
“And later in college?”. ‘Mechanical engineering with a focus on mechatronics,’
‘Well then you must have XXX Fruits,” says Mama in her brightest voice, going on about how it helps children top the classroom.
Now I know it’s a bit daft to believe that ads tell the whole truth but there is a strong case to be made to monitor the claims they make. Particularly those for children’s food products because many people actually buy into them. Take the ads for Complan health drinks which many of us have grown up watching. For decades they have promised to add an extra 3-4 inches to a child’s height.
‘Mothers tell me things like my child is short so I give him Complan. They forget the child was small at birth, that the parents are small and some kids suffer critical illnesses post birth,’ says well-known pediatrician Dr R.K Anand, advisor and resource person for child care programs of international organizations like UNICEF. Dr Anand is a member of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics which has challenged Heinz, the maker of Complan, in court. “Would Heinz dare to advertise these claims as aggressively in the U.S, Canada or Europe?’ he asks. Heinz India says these claims are based on an internal study. But the point to note is that the study has not been registered under the Infant Milk Food Act as per law.
Not just Complan, the IAP is now closely monitoring all advertisements promoting children’s products. “The commonest problem with children’s health in our country is malnutrition,’ says Dr Arun Bal, member of the Association for Consumer Action on Safety and Health. “The solutions are quite easy and cost-effective but when the products are advertised in an attractive format it makes parents more anxious”
“Poor families spend their hard-earned money on these products at the cost of their normal diet like pulses, dal and chapatis which is far more nutritious,’ adds Dr Anand.
World over, health claims made in advertisements for children’s food products are closely watched. In the U.S Nestle had to drop its claim that one of its products improved immunity after pressure from health authorities. In India too, the Advertising Standards Council has specific guidelines for such ads. About time they implemented them. ‘