The Era of Ads: Food Marketing to Kids Goes Viral

By Marion Nestle

More media outlets are noticing that children are targeted. It's time for us to intervene in order to keep them healthy.

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Several recent articles highlight concerns about food marketing to children. Yesterday's New York Times, for example, explained why obesity experts are increasingly concerned about advertising through new electronic media:

Like many marketers, General Mills and other food companies are rewriting the rules for reaching children in the Internet age. These companies, often selling sugar cereals and junk food, are using multimedia games, online quizzes and cellphone apps to build deep ties with young consumers. And children...are sharing their messages through e-mail and social networks, effectively acting as marketers.

...The sites can attract substantial audiences. HappyMeal.com and McWorld.com, sites from McDonald's, received a total of 700,000 visitors in February, around half of whom were under 12, according to comScore, a market research firm. The firm says 549,000 people visited the Apple Jacks site from Kellogg's, which offers games and promotes an iPhone application called "Race to the Bowl Rally." General Mills's Lucky Charms site, with virtual adventures starring Lucky the Leprechaun, had 227,000 visitors in February.

Advertising Age notes the use of cell phones, iPods, and iPads by younger and younger children:

Over half the parents in the survey say their children should be able to go online on their own by age 6, and by 5 should be able to play games on a cellphone or on a console or listen to a portable music player on their own.

And the Public Health Law Network explains takes up the question of parental responsibility vs. food industry responsibility. It asks whether it is:

reasonable for food and beverage companies to spend hundreds of millions of dollars targeting children with marketing, mostly for obesogenic foods, placed literally everywhere and anywhere a child might eat, study, or play, and then demand that parents run interference against them?

Food companies think marketing to kids is plenty reasonable.

Here's a situation in which some policy changes would be most helpful. How about some restrictions on what food companies can do in order to make it easier for parents to manage what their kids eat?

Just a thought. Happy weekend!


This post also appears on Food Politics.
Image: Frostnova/flickr

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/04/the-era-of-ads-food-marketing-to-kids-goes-viral/237727/