Eighty six percent of the food marketed to our children is for unhealthy products so it’s no surprise that researchers have found links between food marketing exposure and the rapid increase of childhood obesity and related diseases. Let’s face it, food marketing works. If it didn’t the food and beverage industry wouldn’t spend over $1.6 billion per year in the U.S. on marketing targeted to young people.
Parents are up against extremely powerful forces when it comes to raising healthy kids. Our kids are being bombarded with messages for unhealthy food everywhere - on TV, the internet, in school, restaurants and stores. Food marketers are constantly creating and utilizing techniques that reach children behind our backs and in ways that blur the line between content and advertising. Think Facebook, YouTube and iPhone apps. Not only are food marketers using new and sneaky techniques to target our kids, but they are using children’s favorite cartoon characters and celebrities to convince kids they have to have the products.
These messages tell children to pester their parents to buy the products, promote snacking between meals, and never show the downside of consuming junk food. To children, snacking on junk food at anytime and anywhere appears cool, fun, and exciting.
The food industry has said that they are concerned about children’s health but it appears that’s not the case. Research has shown that industry’s self-regulation has done little to reduce children’s exposure to junk food. In addition, in 2012, the food and beverage industry spent nearly $20 million lobbying congress against several regulations including those that would decrease the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids.
Our jobs as parents are difficult enough. We want to raise healthy children, but we can’t win if we have to battle food marketing to do that. We need policy makers, the public health community and food and media companies to support our efforts. How can we all work together and ignite change to create a healthier future for our children?
• Parents. Keep junk foods out of the home and encourage physical activity. Don’t always give in to children’s requests for advertised products. Limit screen time and explain to children that companies are trying to convince them that they have to have these products, even when they’re not good for them.
• Communities. Advocate in your communities for restrictions on marketing of unhealthy foods to children in food and convenience stores, fast food and other restaurants, and other community locations.
• Schools. Work with your children’s schools to eliminate marketing, selling or giving away unhealthy foods or brands anywhere on school campuses.
• Industry. Pressure media companies to only promote healthy eating messages during children’s programming and restrict unhealthy food marketing in children’s media. Hold food and beverage companies accountable to their own pledges under the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).
The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity offers more information on the harmful effects of unhealthy food marketing to children.
This post is part of the MomsRising Healthy Holiday Food Blog Carnival.