Pathways to Wellness

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Marketing to children

The food industry understands that children like bright colours, toys and games, fast animation and music, interesting stories, cartoon characters.  They use these characteristics to market food to children, including preschool children.  Take a look at the TV ads which appear during the hours children are watching TV, or the packaging of fast foods, cereals, granola bars, and other foods geared towards children for the evidence.  

The same kinds of strategies are used on-line, in video games, and other forms of entertainment that are geared to older children. 

You might also pay special attention to where products are placed in supermarket aisles.  Don't be surprised if you find that foods marketed to children are at eye level, the eye level of a child that is! 

The majority of food advertising and marketing directed to children are products that are high in salt, sugar, fat and/or calories.  Children, particularly under the age of 8 years, can't tell the difference between facts and sales pitches because their critical thinking skills are under development.  But they know what they want, and they are very effective in making their requests known to their parents!

Children who watch TV food advertisements eat more snacks, and are less likely to have a healthy weight.  They are also more likely to nag their parents to buy the foods they learn about and see on TV.

Unlike some countries (like United Kingdom, Denmark, New Zealand), Canada does not have laws which restrict advertising to children (except Quebec which regulates French language advertising).  Food and beverage companies can voluntarily pledge to limit marketing to children through the Canadian Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative- you can be the judge of whether voluntary initiatives are effective.

But in the meantime, what's a parent to do? 

  • Limit the time children spend watching television.  This is good for two reasons: it limits exposure to advertisements for unhealthy food choices, and it cuts down on time kids are sedentary (inactive). 
    See Screen time.
  • Learn new ways to manage the "nag factor."  See the Nag factor.
  • Make healthy eating easy and fun - whether it's at the family dinner table, in the lunch box, or on the run.  A recent Canadian study showed that when healthy meals are packaged in ways which are fun and attractive to children, healthy options are selected by children over other less healthy alternatives.  In other words, kids like healthy foods.
  • Buy foods from companies who make good on their pledge to limit marketing towards children.

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