Fooled By Ads?

Consumers, regulators and activities need to pay attention to these false advertisements and ensure we are getting the right information.

April 5, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 07 No. -19 Apr. 04- 2014 (Chaitra 21, 2070)

Many mothers become anxious when their children do not get proper nutrition at home. They bribe their children into eating properly, promising them rewards, impromptu dance shows, and stories. When the children still refuse to eat, mothers feel desperate and end up buying expensive pre-packaged food. Exploiting the vulnerability and anxiousness that mothers have for their children, food manufacturers assure them that the packaged food substitutes to the homemade meals are perfectly healthy and nutritious.

For example, one advertisement from a manufacturer of a powdered  so-called healthy drink products (Horlicks) proclaims, “ Once milk is boiled, it loses its nutrition value and you have to add it back to it.”  This is a false and misleading information . Milk does not lose its nutrients in boiling. Many of us are under the impression that if a convincing-sounding and impressive-looking “doctor” gives us medical or nutrition advice in an advertisement, it must be true. Another example: a doctor in another advertisement asserts women’s bones become weaker after 30 and she needs to drink Horlicks every day to make her bone stronger. The advertisement appears to be scientific but it is not. For healthy bones and healthy body, one needs to drink milk,  eat soybeans, kidney beans, sesame+,  and flaxseeds; not expensive packed products. These are relatively inexpensive foods but food manufactures would rather lure us into buying expensive packaged foods. Such advertisements would have been banned in other countries such as UK where the regulations governing advertisements prohibit giving false and misleading information. For example an advertisement in UK from the same powdered  "healthy drink” products manufacturer, claiming it will makes children "taller, stronger and sharper" was banned after it mistakenly was screened on British television in 2008. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) slapped the food manufacturer with the notice asserting that the claim of making children ‘taller, stronger and sharper’ was unsubstantiated.The manufacturer said the adverts were never meant to be shown in the UK and thecompany sells its products in UK as a drink that aids sleep. The advertisement, however, was shown in Nepal and Bangladesh and India . It shows the double standards of the company that markets the same product differently in Nepal /Bangladesh   and UK.  Unfortunately, our government does not strongly regulate advertisements and this apathy has an adverse effect on the health of our citizens.

Similar assertions can be made about the so-called healthy drinks like Bournvita, Boost or Complan. They mislead consumers through false advertisements and consumers end up paying the cost, both in terms of money and health.  Ironically, many consumers don’t believe that we can easily get healthy, nutritious drinks made at home. The supposedly healthy drinks are made up of grain wheat, malt, maize or peanuts and sugar and milk are added to them.  Instead if we just eat the whole grains and proteins such as soybean, “sattu” peanuts, we would get much more nutritious value at an inexpensive price. But we do not care about the cheap home grown food because we are influenced by the ads that try to fool us .

Here is another example of a false advertisement and its adverse effects on consumers.

In 1975, a Nestle advertisement proclaimed that bottled milk was the best for a baby. The ad was controversial. It endangered babies’ health in developing countries as newborn mothers started giving bottled milk to their infants thinking it was better than breast milk. Health activists then raised their voices accusing Nestlé of getting Third World mothers hooked on the formula. Health activists pointed out that the advertisement created a need where none existed.  The company also convinced consumers the products were indispensable through its various ads and it gave freely the sample and made mothers hooked to the bottle. The ad was removed later on but the Nestle still is continuing its tactic but more subtly.  Now other companies are in the market and they are also luring mothers giving samples to new mothers.

Consumers, regulators and activities need to pay attention to these false advertisements and ensure we are getting the right information. I have written a letter to the Advertising Alliance of Nepal encouraging them to play a stronger role in stopping these types of misleading advertisements from reaching consumers. I am waiting for their reply.  I am sure that they will not reply to me as they do not care about the health and well being of the consumers.

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