New Strategies to Improve Food Marketing to Children

Unhealthy foods and beverages are heavily marketed to children, and research shows that exposure to food marketing increases children’s risk for obesity. In addition, food and beverage companies target African-American and Latino children with more advertising and for products that are less healthy.

The federal government has taken some steps to address the impacts  such marketing has on children, and the food and beverage industry has begun to change its own practices. But the impact of industry self-regulation has been limited, and federal policy efforts have stalled.

A new commentary in Health Affairs provides an analysis of past efforts to limit unhealthy food and beverage marketing to young people, and charts a path for the future. William Dietz, former director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides several recommendations for how to limit unhealthy marketing to young people.

This commentary was not directly funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Key Recommendations

  • Advocates should work to mobilize parents as a political force calling for limits on unhealthy marketing.

  • The discussion of food and beverage marketing should be reframed to emphasize the impact viral marketing can have on privacy, and to cast screen time as advertisement time.

  • Advocates should explore ways to use social media to convey messages regarding marketing's unhealthy impact.

  • Technological tools, such as programs that allow parents to skip television advertisements, apps that can block online ads, and "do not track" mechanisms for smart phones, should be explored for their potential to help limit unhealthy marketing.

More on Food and Beverage Marketing

Food Marketing Expenditures Aimed at Youth

In December 2012, the Federal Trade Commission released a report showing that food and beverage companies spent less money marketing to young people in 2009 than they did in 2006. A closer look reveals that the industry still spends the bulk of its money to promote unhealthy products.

Read the full brief

Cereal Company Marketing Contradicts Pledges

Cereal companies promote unhealthy products to children using messages and images that exploit their imaginations and mislead them about the characteristics of a product, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Read the press release