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Food and Beverage Marketing to Children and Adolescents: What Changes are Needed to Promote Healthy Eating Habits?

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Publication Date: November 2008

Publisher(s): Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Topic: Health (Food and nutrition)


Children and adolescents are bombarded with promotions for foods and beverages, and the majority of products advertised to them are high in calories, sugar, sodium and fat. Although many social, cultural and environmental factors influence children’s and adolescents’ risk for obesity, marketing may have an especially powerful impact on what foods and beverages they consume.

This brief summarizes the latest research about the ubiquity of food and beverage marketing targeting youth and how marketing may impact their dietary patterns and health. It also describes national regulations to protect youth from deceptive marketing practices, outlines the changes that some food and beverage companies have made to offer healthier options and details what research is still needed to understand and limit the potential for food and beverage marketing to adversely impact young people’s health.

The brief was prepared by Nicole Larson and Mary Story of Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Among the key research findings highlighted:

* The largest share of advertising budgets—46 percent of all youth marketing expenditures—is dedicated to television because it has the potential to reach a broad audience. High proportions of toddlers and preschoolers (75 percent), school-age children (84 percent) and adolescents (73 percent) watch television every day.
* Nearly all (98 percent) food advertisements viewed by children and 89 percent of advertisements viewed by adolescents were for products that were high in fat, sugar or sodium.
* Higher exposure to advertising (based on parents’ reports of viewing habits and advertising broadcast data) was related to greater consumption of advertised brands and energy-dense product categories (sugared breakfast cereals, confectionery, savory snacks, soft drinks and products from fast-food restaurants).


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