Marketing Junk Food to Children
Feeding children and adolescents has become a complicated interaction with food manufacturers, store, TV advertising and the parents. Many food problems arise from eating too much bad food and too little good food.
Kirkley summarized the growing problem of junk food advertising directed at children:” According to Schor, an economist and professor of sociology at Boston College, the average child is exposed to 27 advertisements for food per day, the majority of them for nutritionally weak foods that are high in fats, oils, sugar and calories. Annual sales of food and beverages to children and youth were more than $27 billion US in 2002 alone and marketers are targeting kids more aggressively, more brazenly and more directly.
One study comparing TV commercials on Saturday morning children shows to Saturday evening adult programs found that 78 percent of food ads during adult programming was for foods high in fat, sodium, cholesterol or sugar. For children's programming, it was 97 percent. Psychologist James McNeal, author of The Kids Market: Myths and Realities, says that as early as six months of age, "babies are forming mental images of corporate logos and mascots.
"McDonald's alone spent $528.8 million on advertising in 2004, according to a recent report by the U.S. Institute of Medicine, with an estimated 40 percent of that targeted to children… The Institute of Medicine says food and beverage marketing to kids is a "direct threat" to the health of the next generation. After reviewing 123 of the best studies they could find, the institute concluded advertising influences the kinds of foods kids prefer, request and consume. Children make their first request for a product by age two. Most of the time, it's in a supermarket. Three-quarters of pleas for cereals involve sugared cereals. And parents honor those requests about half the time. The industry says parents are ultimately responsible for the foods they buy their children. But children also influence what ends up in the grocery cart through what marketers term the "nag factor" or "pester power." [i]
Food marketing extends into internet sites for children, including online games that embed brand messages. A Kaiser Family Foundation study reported that in 3 months 12.2 million children visited websites that used video games to sell sweet cereals, candies, and high-calorie snacks. [ii]
[i] Sharon Kirkey. Junk-food marketing hooks them young: Food promotions a 'direct threat' to the health of the next generation, medical institute warns. Vancouver Sun Tue 21 Nov 2006
[ii] Moore ES. It's child's play: advergaming and the online marketing of food to children. A Kaiser Family Foundation Report. Menlo Park, California: Kaiser Family Foundation; July 2006. http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/7536.pdf