Gone are the days when women were considered the primary purchase decision-makers. Kids, it seems, are the new consumers.
Especially when it comes to unhealthy foods.
Food advertising to children is now a global phenomenon, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports. And “most of this marketing is for foods with a high content of fat, sugar or salt,” they say.
The heaviest hitters: sugared cereals, candy, sweets, sodas and snacks.
In 2011, the average child (age 6-11) saw 559 TV ads for kid-targeted cereals. Media spending in this area is only increasing in the face of health pressure, according to Ad Age.
And of course, there’s fast food. Children as young as age 2 are seeing more fast food ads than ever before, according to the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale.
THIS IS A PROBLEM BECAUSE…
Kids are particularly vulnerable to advertising.
The WHO says: “Evidence shows that television advertising influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns.”
For one, kids like toys. Recently, a precocious nine-year-old laid into the McDonald’s CEO on that account, saying: “I don’t think it’s fair when big companies try to trick kids into eating food that isn’t good for them by using toys and cartoon characters.”
Research supports her accusation, showing that kids have a fondness for (and superhuman recall of) memorable characters in advertising.
Kids also process advertising messages without a filter. The American Psychological Association says children under age eight tend to assume that advertising is truthful and unbiased. A cereal may be touted as “healthy!” because it has fiber and whole grains, and kids will believe it (never mind all the sugar, sodium and food dyes).
THIS IS AN EVEN BIGGER PROBLEM BECAUSE…
Globally, over 40 million preschool children are overweight.
“Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century,” the WHO says. “They are more likely than non-overweight children to develop diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age, which in turn are associated with a higher chance of premature death and disability.”
So how can you protect your children from unhealthy food advertising?
For starters, you can deploy a little influence of your own using these tactics to help your family eat healthier.
It also pays to be aware of covert marketing tactics and encourage your kids to be aware of them, too. (Hey, maybe you can make a game of it—like, spot the product placement!) This Yale University organization is another good resource: www.fastfoodmarketing.org.
But the #1 most important thing you can do isn’t hiding your kids from TV, or sending them to a McDonald’s board meeting to chew out the CEO. While those are pretty great ideas… research shows that you can have the biggest impact on kids’ nutrition choices simply by setting the example.
By Chelsea Bush