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Guest Post by NEA Healthy Futures/

Marketing of unhealthy foods to kids

Posted July 29, 2015

You already know that you should be limiting screen time for children and youth. Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And, there is yet another reason to limit that screen time – the marketing of unhealthy foods aimed at children and adolescents.
Children are exposed to advertisements for sugary cereals, high-calorie sodas and fast food restaurants every day. As adults, we know that ads and marketing are designed to persuade us to buy things we might otherwise not consider. But most children under the age of 8 do not understand this persuasion. Under 4 years old? Most can’t distinguish ads from the programs they are watching. Their favorite cartoon character — the one that they worship and can’t get enough of — says to buy that sugary cereal? They trust that character, that familiar face…they now need that cereal.
Sugary cerealMarketing to children is a huge business. Last year, children viewed on average 12.8 ads per day for foods, beverages, and restaurants, and adolescents viewed 15.2 ads per day according to the UConn Rudd Center’s Trends in Television Food Advertising to Young People: 2014 Update.
Although advertising with fruits and vegetables has seen an increase in recent years, children still saw 14 candy ads and 31 fast-food ads for every 1 fruit or vegetable commercial viewed in 2014, according to the Rudd Center report.
The more kids soak in these unhealthy advertisements, the more likely they are to consume the high-calorie, sugary products. “Exposure to food marketing not only increases children’s preferences and requests to parents for advertised foods in the short term, but it also leads to increased intake and poor diet over time,” according to Food Marketing to Youth: Current Threats and Opportunities by Marlene B. Schwartz and Amy Ustjanauskas.
As parents and educators, you know that exercise and healthy eating can protect kids from childhood obesity, but it’s easy to forget that kids’ daily exposure to unhealthy messaging can make them take a step back in integrating healthy habits into their lives.
Below are two easy ways adults can help protect kids from the effects of unhealthy food marketing:

  1. Parents: Cut down kids’ screen timeFamily walk
    Turn off the TV during breakfast and at dinnertime, and try playing music in the background instead. Families can also think about starting an evening tradition (maybe even involving exercise, like a nightly family walk around the neighborhood) to take the place of sitting in the living room in front of the TV. You can also record any favorite TV shows and fast-forward through the commercials later.
  1. Parents and educators: Be the best healthy role models you can
    It’s impossible to eliminate all unhealthy messaging from kids’ lives, but parents and educators can model healthy behaviors and show kids how eating nutritious foods and exercising can be enjoyable and natural parts of their everyday lives. Educators can even weave the unhealthy marketing campaigns into classroom lessons, having older students analyze advertisements to gain awareness of marketing tactics.

What other ways do you protect your kids from unwanted food and beverage advertisements? Learn more and find resources on our Bag the Junk page.