London kids’ film warns peers about junk food marketing

By: David Monahan

A group of students in the London borough of Hackney have created a wonderful short film which warns kids: when it comes to junk food marketing, don’t believe what you see. 

The film’s title, Where the Lies Are, refers to the front of junk food and drink packages and the ads trying to get kids hooked on them. The eight children in the film, aged 9 to 14, learned to read the nutrition information on the back of the package to get the real scoop: that food and beverages targeted to kids are often high in salt, sugar, and fat, and that food manufacturers are relentless and tricky in their marketing. As the film says, when it comes to junk food marketing: “We are surrounded!” 

In the film, students visit an ad agency and learn how marketers attract children to their brands by using humor, bright colors, and rounded, “friendly-looking” type faces. They also visit shops, where they notice the intentional placement of candy and other unhealthy snacks directly at eye level and in other hard-to-ignore places. 

The CCFC team loved the project, and were excited that kids were getting these important messages about advertising from the best source possible: other kids. I spoke with several of the students behind the film about their experiences. They told me they’re proud of their roles in the making and filming of this production, and were excited to see their work having an impact overseas. They also said that they’ve applied the lessons they learned to their own shopping and eating habits.

Ayoub, 13, told me that he’s “learned to be aware—don’t fall into the deception.” When an ad piques his interest, he now tells himself: “hang on a second, I don’t know how much sugar is in this.” 

Maria, Ayoub’s 10 year old sister, agreed. “It’s tempting when you see chocolate or other sweets,” she said. “You know it’s delicious. But then I remember the film, and I look at the back of the package.”

Another student, Mercy, 13, said she has learned not to “take things at face value.” She now looks past the ads and the flashy packaging and finds the real details about ingredients and nutrition. She also ignores the displays of junk food up front in the stores, and looks for fruits and vegetables. “I’m more likely to choose things I can make at home,” Mercy said, and has nudged her family in that direction too. Even when she wants a treat, “instead of buying biscuits, we can make oat biscuits at home,” she said.

The students’ mothers told me they’re proud of their children’s work, and very appreciative of the producers for giving them the opportunity.

Where The Lies Are was devised and implemented by a London non-profit called Cordwainers Grow, which carries out “projects and events which bring people and their natural environment together in a collaborative and creative way.”

Here’s how they describe the project on the Cordwainers Grow website:

We ran a student-led media project in the summer to discover the influences and pressures children face in making food choices. We wanted to find out just how much food advertising a young person in Hackney comes face to face with on a daily basis (on the street, at school, at home and online), how they feel about that and, if these young people knew more about how they are being targeted by the food industry, how would that affect their food choices?

An independent evaluator, Frances Hansford, MPA, DPhil, has deemed the project a success:

…by the end of the project the participants exhibited much more sophisticated awareness of the ways in which advertising strategies are designed to influence what they buy, and an increased ability to understand and evaluate nutritional and other information on product labels. They expressed strong sentiments of anger, distrust, betrayal, and confusion at the misleading claims made by advertisers, and the damage that processed foods high in fat, sugar and salt can cause to their health. And they showed a keen interest in what is in the food they eat and a readiness to change some of their food choices some of the time.

In addition to the film itself, Cordwainers Grow has developed an activity sheet for teachers who would like to show it in class, to help these kids share their important message with children all over the world! 

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