Why a focus on Food and Beverage Marketing to
“What basic research and taste in children is shedding light on – and why the foods that they’re making for children are to high in sugar and salt – is they are manipulating or exploiting the biology of the child”- Julie Mennella, Monell Chemical Senses Center’s food biopsychologist
Children are at Higher Risk than Adults
Today’s children and youth are a prime target for marketing of unhealthy foods. A 12-nation study of children’s television programs during children’s peak viewing times found that 37% of advertisements were for food, and of these, 95% were for unhealthy foods.
Children are at higher risk than adults to be influenced to make unhealthy choices by marketing practices. Most children eight years of age or under do not understand the persuasive intent of marketing messages. Children 10 to 12 years of age will not use their critical evaluation skills to interpret advertisements unless prompted to do so. Older children are vulnerable to harm from exposure to advertising and promotions for high-risk, addictive products, especially when impulsive behaviors or image benefits are depicted. This is because their brain is more plastic than adults’, and older children tend to be more impulsive and self-conscious than adults. Such marketing has led to changing the way children view food. For example, children can identify food as “cool”, “nerdy”, “for kids” and often will incorrectly identify something as healthy or not based on the colour, characters or images on the food.
Exposure to food and beverage advertising at a young age can also influence food and beverage preferences into adulthood. Studies in the UK and the US determined that individuals who were exposed to characters on children’s cereal before the age of 13, rated those products more positively as adults-including rating them as more healthy. Such research highlights the long-term impact of childhood exposure to food and beverage marketing.
Moreover, children have purchasing power and heavily influence the choices of friends and family they are surrounded by. Marketers have identified 5 year old as “gateway” consumers and 6-11 year olds as the “next best consumers”. Children’s vulnerability combined with their purchasing power makes them an ideal target for food and beverage manufacturers. Despite efforts made by role models, the current food and beverage environment undermines efforts to provide our children with the healthy lifestyle they deserve.