Marketing cereal to children – the concerns
At the supermarket and wanting to make the trip as quick and painless as possible. But your little one decides that Fruit Loops had to be on the menu for breakfast the next morning.
Pfft. No, no, no. Sorry little one. No Fruit Loops for you. But they persist, and you are thinking, “where on EARTH did this come from?”
Well, it seems clever and pervasive marketing aimed at kids may increase their hankering for the sugar-laden breakfast meal.
Canadian researchers surveyed 548 parents of children aged 3-5 to see if the amount of high-sugar cereal advertising children were exposed to influenced the amount of high-sugar cereal the kids consumed.1
The researchers found a positive association – the more adverts seen, the more cereal consumed.
In fact, consumption by the preschoolers increased by 15% when exposed to 10 of high-sugar cereal advertisements over a week. And researchers found double the amount of commercials exposed meant double the amount of cereal consumed, compared to those who saw none.
Overall, the study concluded that the findings “…support recommendations to limit the marketing of high-sugar foods to young children. Ample evidence suggests cereals most heavily advertised to children are the least nutritious and contain the greatest amounts of added sugars.” 1
Considering three-quarters of children in Australia already get more than 10% of their daily energy from added sugars, this isn’t ideal. 2
Other studies support the notion that we should be cautious in our advertising to little ones.
A meta-analysis released in July 2016 in Obesity Reviews found children who watched commercials for unhealthy foods consumed more of them, at least during or shortly after viewing the advert.3
Similarly, research from the Cancer Council in U.K. found despite knowing the junk food being advertised was bad for them, primary school-aged children exposed to the media said they were still tempted to consume it.4
Correlating the advertising of junk or discretionary foods to children with the rise in childhood obesity and other diet-related conditions like type 2 diabetes is not new. Marketing has been found to influence children’s food preference, request and consumption.5-6
Co-author of the Obesity Reviews study, Bradley Johnston remarks the increase in the prevalence of obesity coincides “…with marked increases in the food and beverage industry’s budget for marketing to children and youth, with data showing that energy-dense, low-nutrient foods and beverages make up the majority of commercially marketed products.”
The concern is, obesity when young can put the child at greater risk for chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.
Marketing to children and teens has been found to be pervasive and enticing, saturating multiple mediums. Using health claims on packaging, stealth marketing, cartoon characters, celebrity endorsements, and marketing in schools, alongside the increasing number of hours of media consumed by kids, means exposure is relentless.6-7
Selling the seemingly healthy foods
However, junk food is an obvious target for this possible connection. But what about the advertising of commonly eaten foods like cereal, fruit flavoured yogurts, and juice drinks?
That Sugar Film clearly demonstrates how easily added sugars creep into our every day. And it is the food that is seemingly healthy – like your Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, Yoplait Petit Miam, and Pop-Top fruit drink – that can lead to an excess intake of added sugar over a day, rather than the occasional Fanta or Freddo Frog.
Ideally, we are aiming to limit our and our children’s intake of added sugars to 6 teaspoons per day. And those under 2 years are recommended to avoid added sugars where possible.
Keeping to the recommended limit can be easy if choosing nutrient dense food over highly refined and processed packaged foods, which are often energy dense but nutrient poor, full of added sugar, excess salt, trans-fats and other nasties. Boo.
However, eating good, nutritious food would be much easier if we didn’t have kids bombarded with commercials of the not-so-great stuff.6 Advertising instead could be limited to promoting the awesome qualities of fresh foods like vegetables and fruit!
In fact, an experiment in Ohio promoting veggies as superheroes to kids saw consumption of these nourishing foods triple.8 This is another case to prove the massive power of advertising but used to promote something good for them.
Fresh food will support the health of our munchkins, boosting immune and brain function, stabilizing energy, and helping them grow big and strong.
Until there is a consensus about which packaged food is truly ‘healthy’ for our kids, perhaps any direct advertising should be reconsidered. Canada is already addressing this. And let’s use the power of marketing to promote the good, fresh stuff, inspiring the kids to enjoy delicious and nutritious food, whilst making life easier on the parents to encourage healthy eating. For the sake of our children’s health.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Longacre, MR, Drake, KM, Titus, LJ, Harris, J, Cleveland, LP, Langeloh, G, Hendricks, K, & Dalton, MA 2017, ‘Child-targeted TV advertising and preschoolers’ consumption of high-sugar breakfast cereals’, Appetite, vol. 108, pp. 295-302.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, Australian Health Survey: Consumption of added sugars, 2011-12, viewed 26 Octber 2016, <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4364.0.55.011main+features12011-12>
- Sadeghirad, B, Duhaney, T, Motaghipisheh, S, Campbell, NC, & Johnston, BC 2016, ‘Influence of unhealthy food and beverage marketing on children’s dietary intake and preference: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials’, Obesity Reviews, no. 10, p. 945.
- Aznar, C MacGregor, A Rosenberg, G Porter, L & Lepps, H 2016, Ad Brake: Primary school children’s perceptions of unhealthy food advertising on TV, National Centre for Social Research and Cancer Research UK.
- McGinnis JM, Gootman JA, & Kraak VI, eds. 2006, ‘Institute of Medicine. Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?’, Adolescence, no. 164, p. 772.
- Nestle, M 2006, ‘Food marketing and childhood obesity–a matter of policy’, The New England Journal Of Medicine, vol. 354, no. 24, pp. 2527-2529.
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2011, Food and Beverage Marketing to Children and Adolescents: An Environment at Odds with Good Health, viewed 26 October 2016, <http://healthyeatingresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/HER_RS_FoodMarketing_FINAL_4-6-11.pdf>
- Hanks, AS, Just, DR, & Brumberg, A 2016, ‘Marketing Vegetables in Elementary School Cafeterias to Increase Uptake’, Pediatrics, vol. 138, no. 2, pp. 1-9.