Understanding the impact of marketing food to children

Food companies should be encouraged to focus on providing enjoyable food while keeping the dietary guideline recommendations in mind.

The marketing of food to children has been an ongoing movement for over a century. In the midst of the obesity epidemic with youth and adults, the impact that such advertising plays has been reviewed by health professionals, academia and government entities like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

In a follow up of its 2008 study, the FTC in 2012 published a detailed “Review of Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents.” The review of this article captures in detail the expenditures that food companies use to market their products to the consumer. In this case, it is children and adolescents who may see these messages in television shows with product placement, commercials, social media messages and store displays, to mention a few. As with any repeated message, the one played and viewed most often will become the most familiar to the consumer.

Another impact that has been evident is the limited nutrient density foods for children and youth and promotion of calories from fat, sugar and salt. Nutrient density evaluates the nutritional quality of a food by comparing the amount of nutrients supplied in relation to the amount of calories supplied. For example, an orange and a small bag of pretzels may equal the same amount of calories; however the nutrient density of the orange is higher with nutrients vitamin C, fiber and potassium. Michigan State University Extension recommends eating a variety of foods from fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. A diet that follows the MyPlate guidelines is also recommended.

Another impact of food marketing that may not be as obvious as weight related issues are the effects that advertising has on the brain and behavior. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, the_importance_of_understanding_the_impact_of_children’s_food_marketing_on_the_brain may lead to product food marketing promotion to influence problematic eating that is cultivated from the indicators seen in the messages. Food marketing is designed to sell the product as a priority, it is not health promotion. The FTC in 2012 said that individuals are exposed to a vast amount of food advertising, particularly adolescents, who are frequently targeted as a key advertising demographic. In 2011, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity said that “the average adolescent was exposed to approximately 6,000 television food advertisements in 2010, with most commercials promoting products high in calories, sugar, sodium and/or fat. Yet, little is known about how the brain responds to these advertisements, which may be of importance for individuals at-risk for obesity.”

Future investigation into policies is needed. These can protect and encourage healthier behaviors as well as research that lead to minimizing brand exposure for effective intervention to combat the obesity and mal-nutrition of youth and adolescents. Food companies should be encouraged to focus on providing enjoyable food while keeping the dietary guideline recommendations in mind.

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