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Rudd Report Shows that Children Need to Be Protected from Unhealthy Food Marketing Until at Least Age 14

March 5, 2014



Current food marketing practices present a significant public health threat for older children and teens
, according to a report recently released by the Rudd Center.  The report suggests that children ages 12 to 14 are highly vulnerable to influence from unhealthy food marketing, and policy solutions are needed to protect children until at least age 14.

The food industry’s self-regulatory program, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, recognizes that companies should not target advertising for unhealthy foods to children 11 years and younger due to their greater vulnerability to advertising.  However, the industry currently considers children ages 12 and older to be appropriate targets for marketing that encourages consumption of unhealthy products. 

Yet, according to the report, this age group remains extraordinarily susceptible to the influence of food advertising, and middle school-age is a period of unique vulnerability.

•    During this stage of development, children are highly susceptible to marketing overall, especially marketing for tempting products that require the ability to resist.
•    Newer forms of marketing – such as product placements and social and mobile media marketing – are often disguised as entertainment or messages from friends, making them more difficult to recognize. Furthermore, much of this marketing takes advantage of this age group’s unique developmental vulnerabilities, such as greater susceptibility to peer influence.
•    Although companies have reduced some advertising to younger children, they have increased marketing to children 12 years and older for some of the least healthy food and beverage products such as fast food and sugary drinks.
•    Compared to younger children, children ages 12 to 14 face heightened risk from the influence of unhealthy food marketing due to their greater independence and higher levels of media consumption.
•    Children ages 12 and older also have some of the highest rates of consumption of unhealthy advertised products. For example, children ages 12 and older consume 225 calories-per-day from sugar-sweetened beverages (10% of total calories), versus 118 calories-per-day for children ages 11 and younger (6% of total).

The authors point to research indicating that parents share public health advocates’ concern about unhealthy food and beverage marketing, and would support restrictions on unhealthy food marketing to older children and teens.

The report suggests that food and media companies should expand self-regulation to protect children through their most developmentally vulnerable period, at least until age 14. If the food and media industries refuse to protect older children voluntarily, the authors recommend that federal, state, and local policymakers regulate many common food marketing practices.

The report was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.