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.


Fi T.
Fi T1 years ago

They need something really helpful

Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

Whatever you have provided for us in these posts really appreciative.

Ujivenelson Ujivenelson

Keep the ball rolling you have done the great job here. animated video production

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Catt R.
Catt R5 years ago

Andrew B. how nice you think you have found a nice way to say you are better than. We that are 'less than' (proletariat) thank you for even acknowledging we exist...... Please !!! Do you honestly think that you are also more intelligent and we will not know you are being condescending and insulting if you use big words?? Being a member of the 'lucky sperm club' means you have more opportunity and more advantages true, but it does not in fact make you more deserving. Personally, I am pleased you had the extra help, with the attitude you display you never would have made it without that boost.
I will add you to my list of people to pray for. I will pray for you personally to be greatly blessed (how could a blessing for you harm me in any way? and in making this prayer I am able to let go of the anger I feel towards you. Anger is not a healthy state.) AND for things to work out for the good of ALL

Sumit jamadar
Sumit j5 years ago


Barbara Erdman
Barbara E6 years ago

thanx for post

Tiffany Lambiase
Tiffany Lambiase6 years ago


Jennifer Martin
Jennifer M6 years ago

Cheyenne, they aren't banning anything, simply changing the rules of advertising. Which they should! If kids see posters for fast food all day long, that's what they'll beg for. DUH. Ever heard of "out of sight, out of mind"? It really works. And you are very right, it is the parents' responsibility to feed their kids healthy food, but how many parents actually do it? The childhood obesity rates prove that parents aren't stepping up to the plate. It's very unfortunate. These poor kids will have tons of health problems, all because their parents fed them crap.

Cynthia Henley
Cynthia H6 years ago

If government can regulate cigarette advertising, why not fast food antics? The cost of obesity to the public is HUGE. I can say that I'll bet I took my kids to McDonald's maybe 5 times ever, and to other fast food joints less than 1 time every couple of months as they grew up.