June 2014 – State of the Evidence: Vulnerability to Food and Beverage Marketing by Age Group

Part 1: Protecting Children from Unhealthy Food Marketing

Dr. Jennifer Harris, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University

The Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative states that 100% of TV, radio, print and internet ads primarily directed to children under 12 years of age will be for healthier dietary choices. There is currently nothing in place to protect children 12 and older from the impact of food and beverage marketing.

Research demonstrates that children 12-14:

  • Can understand marketing, but cannot necessarily defend against it
  • ŸAre biologically not equipped to forgo short-term reward for long-term benefits
  • Use more media and therefore see more advertising
  • ŸAre more independent and visit corner stores, purchase food from vending machines, and have the means to purchase unhealthy products more oftenŸ Consume more empty calories, sugary drinks and fast food
  • Rely more on their peers-newer forms of marketing are formed to activate this
  • Are vulnerable to the impact of food and beverage marketing

Note: Age 14 is also a practical consideration. In the US, there were efforts to restrict food and beverage marketing for 15-17 year olds, but there was more backlash from the food industry. Age 14 is also an age break that advertisers use in their media. 

Data from the US demonstrated between 2007 and 2011, advertising to children increased slightly, but advertising targeted at teens increased by 25%.


  • ŸFood industry self-regulation should protect children 12-14.
  • Look into expanding the definition of child directed media.
  • If the food industry does not change voluntary, it is recommended to begin looking into what other policy options are available.

For more information, please see the Rudd Centre’s Research Brief on the impacts of marketing on children 14-years and younger:

Part 2: Online Advertising & Child Health

Dr. Ellen Helspler, London School of Economics and Political Science

Online advertising research vs. traditional TV advertising research

TV Advertising

  • Uniformity in format
  • Age rating and watershed for children
  • Ad breaks and no product placement in children’s programming
  • Family/supervised activity
  • Regulated/self-regulated

Online Advertising

  • Range of different formats
  • Not clear what children’s sites are
  • Boundary between advertising “product” or “service” unclear
  • Peer of individual activity
  • Escapes regulation

What are the various forms of online advertising?

  • Ÿ Food and beverage industry websites
  • Social online games and advergames
  • Advertisements and virals
  • Pop ups

Who has a role in the prevention of children’s reception to advertising? 

1) Industry: through self-regulation, watershed & ratings.

2) Parents: through media literacy & active mediation.

3) Schools: through media literacy, in school product placement & provision of school meals.

Thank You to our Speakers

Dr. Jennifer Harris is Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University. She is responsible for the Rudd Center’s research initiatives to understand the extent and impact of children’s exposure to food advertising and communicate that information to the health community, parents and policy makers.

Dr. Ellen Helsper is a lecturer in the Media and Communications Department of the London School of Economics with a specialization in Quantitative Media Research. Her current research interests include the links between digital and social exclusion; mediated interpersonal communication; and quantitative and qualitative methodological developments in media research.

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

Click here to download the PDF version of the webinar slides part 2