Industry Progress to Market a Healthful Diet to American Children and Adolescents

Nearly one-third of American children and teens are overweight or obese. In 2006, children and adolescents 17 or under were the target of $1.6 billion in marketing expenditures by food, beverage and restaurant companies.

In a 2005 report, the Institute of Medicine made recommendations for ways industry stakeholders could promote a healthful diet. The authors of this new study evaluated how much progress has been made in the five years ending January 2011.

After selecting and categorizing 117 published articles and reports, the investigators concluded the following:

  • Food and beverage companies achieved moderate progress in expanding healthier product offerings and reducing TV advertising for unhealthy products.
  • Restaurants made limited progress to expand and promote healthier meals and provide calories and other nutrition information at point of choice and consumption.
  • Industry trade associations achieved limited progress to demonstrate leadership and harness industry creativity, support and resources to market a healthful diet.
  • Industry stakeholders collectively made moderate progress to work with government and other groups to establish and enforce marketing standards for young people.
  • The media and entertainment industry made limited progress toward voluntarily limiting advertisements targeting children.

The investigators offer specific suggestions for stakeholder groups to promote a healthful diet to American children and adolescents. These include: conveying consistent and appealing messages; ensuring transparency by sharing relevant marketing data; obtaining companywide commitments; understanding the interactions among companies, marketing practices, and consumer demand; balancing free-market systems goals with protecting young people's health; and committing to monitor and evaluate all efforts.