Marketing Junk Food to Our Kids: Can We Beat It?

Last week, Food Politics writer Marion Nestle reported on two key new reports on food marketing and children.

The report Fast Food Facts, by researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, quotes numerous scary statistics on the relentless marketing of fast food. The list of facts demonstrating the marketing of fast food to children, which goes on for two pages, includes:

  • The fast food industry spent more than $4.2 billion in 2009 on TV advertising, radio, magazines, outdoor advertising, and other media.
  • The average preschooler (2-5 years) saw 2.8 TV ads for fast food every day in 2009; children (6-11 years) saw 3.5; and teens (12-17 years) saw 4.7.
  • Young people’s exposure to fast food TV ads has increased. Compared to 2003, preschoolers viewed 21% more fast food ads in 2009, children viewed 34% more, and teens viewed 39% more.

The report clearly demonstrates that despite the introduction of some “healthier choices” in fast food restaurants, the overall trend is still moving in the wrong direction. The fast food industry is increasing its efforts to reach young people and convince them to eat unhealthy food.

Their marketing efforts work.  The Rudd Center report found that 84% of parents take their children to a fast food restaurant at least once a week and 66% reported going to McDonald’s. Forty percent of parents said that their child asks to go to McDonald’s at least once a week and 15% of preschoolers ask to go there every single day.

Is it possible for our children to grow up without knowing what McDonald’s is?

I remember that when our daughter was two years old and had only watched ad-free television, we passed a McDonald’s and she remarked “M is for Mommy” while looking at the Golden Arches. I was proud, but my delusion that we could shield her from the fast food industry was quick-lived. While we do go for fast food sometimes, we never go to McDonald’s, yet my children certainly know exactly what is up for offer there (burgers and fries, toys, playground) and I have had to come up with strategies to deal with the begging.

The World Health Organization is calling on its member states to give parents a helping hand by reducing the advertising of unhealthy food to children. Their recommendations certainly cover fast food, but also cover other foods (e.g. snack foods, cereals, etc.) that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt. In its Set of Recommendations on the Marketing of Foods and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children, the WHO calls on member countries to reduce children’s exposure to marketing of unhealthy foods and also reduce the power of that advertising. They also proposed that:

“Settings where children gather should be free from all forms of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt. Such settings include, but are not limited to, nurseries, schools, school grounds and pre-school centres, playgrounds, family and child clinics and paediatric services and during any sporting and cultural activities that are held on these premises.

Most of the WHO Recommendations focus on the need for member states to take a leadership role in developing, monitoring and enforcing mechanisms to reduce the advertising of these unhealthy foods.

Will countries like the United States, Canada and other Western democracies take these recommendations seriously and do something to protect our children and help parents? Or will these recommendations, much like the ones in the WHO’s Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, end up being appluaded and then mostly ignored by the government?

Image credit: Lunchbox Photography on Flickr.

76 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R1 months ago

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R1 months ago

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