Marketing unhealthy food to children is a disputative problem and the stakes are high—a multi billion dollar global industry and the health of children.
According to a recent report, the fast food industry is increasingly targeting its marketing toward children — with kids seeing ads when they’re as young as 2 years old. Children now see about 1/3 more fast food TV ads than they did just six to seven years ago, while preschoolers see 21% more. And if kids watch movies or spend lots of time online, experts say they’ll see even more food marketing, thanks to ads and product placements. Due to the fact that most children under age 6 cannot distinguish between programming and advertising and children under age 8 do not understand the persuasive intent of advertising, marketing unhealthy products to children has been “disastrously effective” at fueling the global obesity epidemic. The rates of obesity in America’s children and youth have almost tripled in the last quarter century. Approximately 20% of youth are now overweight with obesity rates in preschool age children increasing at alarming speed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity has more than doubled among children ages 2 to 5 (5.0% to 12.4%) and ages 6 to 11 (6.5% to 17.0%). In teens ages 12 to 19, prevalence rates have tripled (5.0% to 17.6%). Children and youth are at risk for becoming obese as adults and associated poor health such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.
The food industry claims that it cares about the health of children, yet its actions show otherwise.
The new ways in which food companies reach children makes it difficult for parents to protect children from all the marketing for low-nutrient, calorie-dense products that appeal to kids in fun and interactive ways.
In 2010, the food and beverage industry spent over $40 billion lobbying congress against several regulations including those that would decrease the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids, and potential soda taxes.
Over half of the most aggressively marketed children’s foods advertising fruit on the packaging actually contain no fruit ingredients whatsoever.
Take the SpongeBob Popsicles for example,
SpongeBob SquarePants, shown here on a box of sugary popsicles, has also been a pitchman for spinach, carrots, and fruit.
That may seem like a positive thing, but some experts say that it will just confuse children in the end. If kids begin to associate SpongeBob with healthy foods such as carrots, the thinking goes, they may end up believing that popsicles are nutritious, too.
Food companies are deceiving kids. And they’re making a huge profit doing so. Parents, advocates, public health officials and organizations across the country are calling government to step in and protect voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children. But will this ameliorate the issue of junk food marketing? We’ll see.