Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents


Food marketing contributes to poor diet and obesity among youth, and public health experts believe that the obesity crisis cannot be resolved without dramatic changes in food marketing to children and adolescents. Parents have the consumer power to insist that food and media companies improve their youth targeted marketing practices and the political power to demand government action.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University conducted a survey of 2,454 parents with children ages 2-17 living at home in June-July of 2009, 2010, and 2011. This research is the first to examine what parents really think about food marketing to their children.

Key Findings:

  • Parents were as concerned about junk food marketing to children as they were about alcohol and tobacco use in the media.
  • In 2011, 65 percent of parents surveyed rated the food industry as a negative influence on their children’s eating habits, up from 59 percent in 2009.
  • The majority of parents surveyed expressed broad support for limiting unhealthy food marketing and other policies to help them encourage their children to eat healthy. The policies that received the greatest approval included those that set nutrition standards for foods sold in schools (supported by 72% to 81% of parents), and policies that would promote healthy eating in children’s media (70% to 73%).

Overall, the study shows that parents’ concerns about food marketing and other negative influences on their children’s eating habits appear to be increasing. Parents rated the impact of nearly all specific types of food marketing higher in 2011 versus 2009, which indicates that they may be becoming more aware of food marketing issues. Parents’ ratings of most obstacles to healthy eating also increased from 2009 to 2011, as did the percent of parents who indicated that the food industry, government, and local communities were a negative influence in promoting healthy eating for their children. These changes may indicate a future increase in support of policy-related actions to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing and create a healthier food environment for children.

Support for this project was provided by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation.