Marketing Food to Children
The food industry spends over $1.6 billion dollars each year to market products to young people. This is a major concern in the U.S., as the majority of these products are for foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar and/or sodium. Food marketing has been connected to unhealthy diets and obesity.

What is Food Marketing?

  • Marketing is a process widely used by companies throughout the world to encourage consumption of their products172.
  • Foods most heavily targeted at children include energy-dense fast foods, carbonated soft drinks, sugary breakfast cereals, salty snacks and baked goods, which tend to be high in fats, sugars and salt, and are nutrient-poor.
  • Given the rising rates of obesity, some experts have suggested that the marketing of such foods contributes to an "obesogenic" environment that makes healthy food choices more difficult, especially for children173.

Why Does Food Marketing Contribute to Childhood Obesity?

  • Children and youth are important to marketers because they influence their parents' buying decisions, some have their own purchasing power, and they are the adult consumers of the future.
  • Every day, children ages 2-17 see, on average, 12-21 TV commercials for food products. That's 4,400-7,600 commercials a year114.
  • Ad spending for interactive video games is projected to reach $1 billion by 2014, with six million 3-11 year olds visiting some form of virtual game online each month174.
  • Many compelling ads target both children and parents. They use popular cartoon characters or celebrities to market the unhealthy, sugary food as, "a great source of fiber," "a great source of vitamins," "a great source of whole grains."
  • Food marketing to children and youth has been shown to increase: preference for advertised foods; consumption of advertised foods; overall calorie consumption; and requests to parents to purchase advertised foods (known as "pester power")116.
  • Young people's exposure to fast food TV ads has increased. Compared to 2003, in 2009 preschoolers (2-5 years) viewed 21% more fast food ads, children (6-11 years) viewed 34% more, and teens (12-17 years) viewed 39% more118.
  • Research suggests that low-income and ethnic minority youth, who are at higher risk for obesity, are disproportionately exposed to food advertisements175.

Types of Food Marketing

  • Food marketing to children and adolescents is changing very quickly due to the growth of digital technology.
  • While television is still the primary format for food advertising to children and teens, today the food industry also markets aggressively via the Internet, through cell phones and text messages, in video and computer games, in movies and subsequent tie-ins with food products, and even in schools.
  • The new ways in which food companies reach children makes it difficult for parents to protect children from all the marketing for low-nutrient, calorie-dense products that appeal to kids in fun and interactive ways.
  • Other facts on food marketing
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