Internet Food and Beverage Marketing to Kids

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The Dangers of Excess Dietary Sugar, Fat and Salt

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  1. Sugar – Dr. Hammond 
  2. Fat – Dawna Royall
  3. Salt – Dr. Campbell

The Canadian Landscape of Food and Beverage Marketing to Kids

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Ground Breaking Research from the U.K. & Ireland


Click here to download slides from Part 1 of the webinar

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Who’s Feeding the Kids Online? Report can be downloaded here

Obesity in Canada

Sugary Drinks

Sugary Drinks and Marketing to Children and Teens

Sugary drinks are calorically dense, and promote calorie intake and excess weight gain leading to obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. In Canada, A 2007 report noted that 17% of pre schoolers in Quebec consumed sugary drinks. 20% of male teens drink sugary drinks daily. There is significant scientific evidence to support that decreasing sugary drinks consumption will reduce the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases.

We are seeing astronomical increases in obesity and obesity-related diseases in children as beverage companies continue to market and pursued children and teens to consume sugary drinks. In the USA, 45% of the money spent on marketing to teens is for sugary drinks.

Industry Response:

  • ŸIndustry has said that per capita consumption of “ready to drink” soft drinks has dropped over the last 15 years, yet obesity rates remain stable. What they fail to state is that. Industry fail to state that fruit drinks, ice tea, slushies, sports drinks, fountain, energy drinks
  • Industry will also state how concerned they are about children’s health, donations they give and that they are part of the solution. See CSPI’s report Selfish Giving for more information.
  • Industry will argue that physical activity will reduce obesity.
  • They state that consuming sugary drinks is personal responsibility
  • They state that sugar taxes are a job killer and that beverage companies hire a diverse workforce

Promising Policies

  • ŸSafety warning label: drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay
  • Eliminating sugary drinks from Kids’ Meals or making water or milk the default drink for Kids’ Meals
  • Increasing the availability of water foundations in schools, recreation centres, hospitals, etc.
  • ŸIncluding fruit juices in the definition of sugary drinks
  • Decreasing portion sizes of sugary drinks
  • Introducing a tax on Sugary Drinks that includes diet drinks and fruit juices. We know from tobacco that when prices rise, consumption decreases.
  • Restricting the marketing of sugary drinks to children and youth

Thank you to our speakers: 

Tom Warshawski Tom Warshawski is a consultant pediatrician practicing in Kelowna, British Columbia.. Dr. Warshawski spearheaded the development of Sip Smart and is one of the leaders in the development of Screen Smart and of the LiGHT project. The Childhood Obesity Foundation is currently overseeing the implementation of MEND and Shapedown programs across British Columbia.

Roberta Friedman ScM is Director of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. She educates federal, state and local policy makers and advocacy organizations about food policy and obesity research, and creates resources to help them write and implement effective obesity prevention policies.

Click here to download the PDF version of the webinar slides part 1

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Food Dyes, Children’s Behaviour, and Implementations for Policy

Evidence linking food dyes to adverse behaviour in children continues to grow:

  • ŸThree separate meta analyses provide evidence that link food dyes to adverse behaviour in sensitive children
  • When it comes to ADHD, food dyes are likely part of a larger story. There is a small, but real effect on ADHD and other food additives may worsen the problem. Most effects that food dyes had on children were immediate. Research demonstrated that there were behavioural effects on children with and without ADHD. The dose of food dye required to have an effect is not known, but children had effects even with small doses.
  • Eliminating food dyes from children’s diet is a potentially valuable treatment for children with ADHD.

In addition to the above, evidence has linked food dyes to Cancer and allergic reactions:

  • Ÿ Food dyes linked to Cancer: Red 3/erythrosine, Yellow 5/tartrazine, Yellow 6/Sunset Yellow FCF, Red 40/allura red, Caramel, Red 40 – p-cresidine
  • Food dyes linked to allergic reactions – Blue 1/brilliant blue FCF, Red 40/allura red, Yellow 5/tartrazine, Yellow 6/sunset yellow FCF; annatto, carmine, cochineal

Unlike the USA and Canada, foods in the U.K. that contain food dyes, must have a warning label stating that the food dyes may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children. This has caused many companies to stop putting food dyes into the foods, to prevent having to put a warning label on their food.

Canada is behind the USA when it comes to labeling food dyes. In the USA, food and beverage manufacturers must label each specific colour, while in Canada, simply writing “Colour” in the ingredient is sufficient. This leaves Canadians not knowing the specific food dyes contained in their foods beverages.

Thank you to our speakers:

Dr. Nigg specializes in diagnostic assessment and treatment planning for children with attention and learning disorders. He is a leading expert on ADHD/ADD, and his extensive and ongoing original scientific research in this area helps inform his consultations to families and other clinicians. Dr. Niggs directs the OHSU ADHD and Attention Program where they conduct extensive research to discover the causes of ADHD.

Lisa Y. Lefferts is senior scientist at CSPI and focuses primarily on food additives. She has worked as a public health scientist with public interest organizations for over thirty years.   Currently she is working on a report summarizing the research on behavioral reactions to food dyes and the regulatory response in the U.S. Prior to her work at CSPI, she served on the US Food and Drug Administration Food Advisory Committee that considered the link between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity.

Click here to download the PDF slides from this webinar.

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The Economics of Restricting the Marketing of Foods and Beverages to Children

Are food and beverage marketing restrictions cost effective?

An Australian study found that the reduction of unhealthy food and beverage TV advertising was the most cost effective way of addressing obesity.

What would the effect be on the industry?

In 2008, Ofcom assessed the overall impact of the food and beverage restrictions on the advertising revenue of television broadcasters. The assessment showed that while there was a reduction in food drink advertising revenue, the change in net advertising revenue actually increased. The researchers conclude that “restrictions on food and drink advertising have not been the most significant factor affecting broadcasters” as advertising revenues went to others areas than the food and drink advertising area.

Lessons from Tobacco has shown that there was little economic impact with tobacco marketing restrictions:

Ÿ The economic impact of tobacco control on small business is virtually nothing and in some cases small businesses have seen an improvement in revenue in parallel with smoke-free policies.

Ÿ Industry predicted the cancellation of the country’s most popular festivals and sporting events with tobacco sponsorship restrictions. However, festivals and events that were once sponsored by tobacco companies are still successful today. For example, the fireworks festival in Vancouver, BC was once the “Benson and Hedges Symphony of Fire” which is now that “Honda Celebrations of Lights”. There are many examples to show that despite the predictions of not allowing tobacco companies to sponsor festivals and events, other companies have picked up the sponsorship and taken over the advertising. The same will hold true for restrictions around the food industry.

The effectiveness of publically funded health promotion messages tend to be overwhelmed by the marketing resources of food and beverage companies.

-Dr. Hans Krueger

Thank you to our speaker

Dr. Hans Krueger is the founder, H. Krueger & Associates Inc., which was founded in 1996 to service the field of health care management. The company provides economic and epidemiological analysis for a variety of major health care authorities and agencies in BC. The company has recently expanded to central Canada, including federal and national agencies.

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Digital Junk: Marketing of Food and Beverages on Facebook

Research Question

What is the amount, reach and nature of energy dense, nutrient poor food on Facebook?


Content analysis of the marketing techniques used by the 27 most popular food and beverages brand Facebook pages in Australia. Content was coded across 19 marketing categories and collected data from an average of 3.65 years of activity per page.


  • ŸMajority of posts across all the pages were of photographs
  • On average, page administrators made a total of 18 original posts during the 1-month period, of which 13 (72%) were classified as photographs.
  • All page posts attracted likes, shares, and comments from page members.
  • Monster Energy had the highest total number of likes for its posts across the 1-month period with 1,281,868 total likes, and Subway had the highest average number of likes per post with 23,569 likes.
  • Given that a significant portion of Facebook users log in daily, it is unsurprising that popular pages have high levels of activity.
  • Consumers not only willingly engage with brands, they also create free word-of-mouth content that marketers have minimal control over
  • Users require very little incentive to openly interact with unhealthy food brands
  • Increasing the visibility of users on social media among their peers—or fellow consumers—is a distinctive social media marketing tactic
  • Very high popularity of the sugar-sweetened soda and energy drink pages


The above results have public health practice implications. Young adults appear to be a highly desirable target population for unhealthy food marketing, and limited research, resources, and policy action have been directed at this age group. If people are engaging with Facebook content because it makes them feel good, it may mean that certain modes of health promotion messages that are highly effective in other forms of media will not work on social media.

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The Effectiveness of Food and Beverage Media Literacy

What is media literacy?

The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a variety forms. In the literature, media Literacy and advertising literacy are used interchangeably.

Research Question and Methods

Research Question: What is the effectiveness of media literacy programs targeted to children to protect them from the harms of unhealthy food and beverage advertising?

Methods: The research focused on studies that explored advertising on less health food and beverages targeted at children 17 years old or younger. Five secondary and nine primary research articles were reviewed.

Results demonstrated that:

1) There are many unsubstantiated assumptions within the media literacy literature including:

Ÿ Individuals who have lower understanding of media are more susceptible to its effects.

Ÿ Food and beverage media literacy is the same as other forms of media literacy (e.g. understanding violence on TV).

2) There are different ways of measuring the “effectiveness” of media literacy interventions:

Ÿ By measuring ability to identity and understand advertising or, media literacy related outcomes.

Ÿ By measuring behavioural outcomes –this measure is more important if we want to use media literacy to protect children from the influence of advertising.

In every study that was reviewed, media literacy interventions were more successful at improving media literacy related outcomes than in actually changing purchasing behaviours or attitudes.


Media literacy may be useful is helping children understand marketing, but there is little evidence to suggest that media literacy impacts food purchasing behaviors or preferences or that media literacy will protect children from the influence of food and beverage marketing.

Results support the Dietitians of Canada position paper on advertising food and beverages to children, which states that media literacy, “may not be a strong option for attenuating the effects of food advertising directed to children”.

What are the health effects of added sugars in children’s diets?

  • Ÿ Though sugar is not shown to be associated with hyperactivity or behavior problems in children, it is associated with increased energy intake (possibly leading to weight gain) and dental caries when oral care is inadequate.
  • There has been a lot of research in adults that examined the health effects of added sugar but there needs to be more done with children.
  • Within the research, there are discrepancies in how “added sugars” are defined.
  • There needs to be more primary research with a consistent definition of “sugar” that can determine causality.
  • There were several studies that were funded by the Sugar Bureau of the UK but stated that the Sugar Bureau did not provide direction for the research.

What are the health effects of added salts in children’s diets?

  • Ÿ A high salt intake is not associated with hydration status (because children compensate by increasing fluid intake accordingly) but may be associated with blood pressure, sugar sweetened beverage intake, weight status and calcium excretion
  • Ÿ Within the research examined, there are discrepancies in how sodium is measured. Some studies measure sodium by dietary intake and others by ordinary excretion.
  • Ÿ In some areas the research is strong enough to make clear statements, but there is conflicting info we need to be careful.

Thank you to our speaker

Mary Anne Smith is research consultant for Dietitians of Canada. She is a registered dietitian and recently finished a PhD in the field of food policy at the University of Guelph. Her research interests include knowledge translation, food policy, food safety, and food security and she has worked in private practice and as a consulting dietitian for government and non-governmental organizations.

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