Food Marketing to Youth
Food marketing to children and adolescents is a major public health concern. The food industry spends $1.8 billion per year in the U.S. on marketing targeted to young people. The overwhelming majority of these ads are for unhealthy products, high in calories, sugar, fat, and/or sodium.
On television alone the average U.S. child sees approximately 13 food commercials every day, or 4,700 a year; and teens see more than 16 per day, or 5,900 in a year. The food products advertised most extensively include high-sugar breakfast cereals, fast food and other restaurants, candy, and sugary drinks. In comparison, children see about one ad per week for healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, and bottled water.
Companies increasingly market to young people anywhere they spend their time, including in schools, on the Internet, and on mobile phones. They continue to find new and creative ways to reach children, often blurring the line between content and advertising and encouraging children to send marketing messages to their friends through YouTube, Facebook, and other social media. Food company websites targeted to children usually contain advergames and other entertaining content to keep them engaged with the brands as long as possible.
The messages in youth-targeted food advertisements encourage children to pester their parents to buy the products, promote snacking between meals, and portray positive outcomes from consuming high-calorie, nutritionally-poor foods. To children it appears cool, fun, and exciting to eat these unhealthy products anytime, anywhere.
Food marketing has a direct and powerful impact on young people's food preferences and eating behaviors and negatively influences their diet, weight, and health.
Research and resources
- “A crisis in the marketplace: How food marketing contributes to childhood obesity and what can be done.”
- “Food marketing: Targeting young people in a toxic environment.”
- “Food marketing to youth: Current threats and opportunities.”
- The 2005 Institute of Medicine report, “Food marketing to children and youth,” provides a comprehensive review of the research.
- The 2012 Institute of Medicine report, "Accelerating progress in obesity prevention: Solving the weight of the nation," evaluates prior obesity prevention strategies and identifies recommendations.
- The 2012 Federal Trade Commission report, "A review of food marketing to children and adolescents: Follow-up report," updates the 2008 report requested by Congress in a comprehensive study of food and beverage industry marketing expenditures and activities directed to children and teens.
- The 2012 World Health Organization report, “A framework for implementing the set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children” discusses the World Health Assembly's recommendations to guide efforts by Member States in designing new policies, or strengthening existing policies, on food marketing
communications to children.