Food and Beverage Marketing to Children and Adolescents

An Environment at Odds with Good Health

Evidence shows that children’s and adolescents’ exposure to high-calorie, high-fat, sugary and low-nutrient foods and beverages is more extensive and pervasive. Focusing on studies published between January 2008 and February 2011, this synthesis examines trends in food and beverage marketing to children and adolescents in the United States. It builds on a Healthy Eating Research brief released in October 2008 and examines the growing body of research that independently assesses industry self-regulation.

The synthesis also emphasizes that integrated marketing communications strategies have expanded far beyond television (TV) into new media, including websites, mobile marketing via SMS text and web-enabled phones, social networks, and online video, making the traditional measures of media exposure less relevant. Compared with traditional channels such as TV advertising, the cost of digital media per impression is relatively inexpensive. Although industry spending on digital media has steadily increased, the dollar amount of expenditures still underestimates the impact on children’s and adolescents’ exposure to new media.

Other key findings include:

  • Young people consume more media than ever before, spending 7.5 hours per day online, watching TV, using mobile devices, listening to music, playing video games and reading print materials.
  • Latino and African-American youths are early adopters and heavy users of digital media, and food companies view them as trendsetters. They also are targeted with branded food and beverage products of lower nutritional quality than White children and adolescents.
  • Marketers surround children with promotions in the places where they live, learn and play. For example, children are exposed to marketing in schools, where they are a captive audience, at the point of purchase in stores and restaurants, and through food retail outlets and billboards.

The synthesis also identifies policy implications and highlights additional research needs and opportunities.