The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that today’s food environment is very different from that experienced by previous generations, the variety of food and beverage products available in most markets offering diversity of taste, convenience and novelty.1

Identified as one of the main contributors to the obesity epidemic, intensive marketing of low-nutrient and high-energy products around the world exposes children to the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages high in fat, sugar and salt.2 Thus, within the framework of its Global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013-2020, the WHO urges nations to pass legislation regulating the marketing of food and beverages to children.

Consequences of marketing to kids

Young people only understand the true nature of advertising at the beginning of their adolescence, i.e. around 11-12 years of age. Before this age, their intellectual development does not make it possible for them to discern the persuasive intentions of the advertisers and to exercise a critical judgment, making them vulnerable to the different strategies used against them. Thus, exposing children to advertising has many potential consequences.

Unable to recognize the commercial intentions of marketing, children are therefore easily manipulable and vulnerable to the advertising that targets them. This has resulted in a number of studies showing significant impacts, including, but not limited to, adverse effects on food quality.

Eating habits harmful to health

Advertising to children has an impact on the quality of young people’s diet by increasing their preference for less nutritious and calorie-dense foods, especially among children who watch television more,3,4 and those already overweight.5 Research shows that food marketing to children affects their food knowledge, their attitude toward junk food and their food preferences and behaviors.

The most widely advertised food and beverages are those in the category “To be consumed as little as possible”.6,7 Moreover, music celebrities, very popular with teenagers, promote low-nutritional value and high-energy products, which contributes to the epidemic of childhood obesity.8 In Quebec, the messages for healthy eating are found drowned in an abundant mass of junk food commercials. Indeed, 3/4 of the food subject of advertisements on children’s channels are not part of the four food groups identified in the Canadian Food Guide.9

Developing a relationship with the brand

Children become very loyal to a brand that manages to capture their attention and address their requests to their parents to get it. As early as 3 to 5 years old, children use advertisements to determine which fun products will make them popular, even if they cannot read.10 Children are then a prime target for advertisers, who try to create a relationship between them and the brands from an early age.

Parents’ nagging

When confronted with advertising, children resort to harassment of “perseverance” towards their parents by claiming a product several dozen times, or by stinging crises, to get what they want.11

Why target children?

In the short and long term, commercial advertising to children has a significant economic interest for the food industry, because they are ideal targets. Indeed, they possess a high purchasing power, influence their parents, can become loyal to a brand from their youngest age and in the long run, and are gullible and easily influenced.12,13


References

Help us create marketing to kids-free environments. If you think you are in the presence of an illegal advertisement, let us know by filling out the form below. We will analyze the information and, if necessary to file a complaint, we will initiate the process with the Quebec Consumer Protection Office.

 

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