Marketing of food and beverages

Marketing has changed. Children and youth are seeing marketing that is more entertaining, more interactive and more powerful than a decade ago.

Children and youth are targeted by marketing everywhere. Marketing, in a nutshell, is communicating a message that advertises or promotes a product or service. When that product is an unhealthy food or beverage, children and youth may be influenced to make choices that can lead to health issues.

When we talk about the food and beverage industry, marketing can include:

  • Food and beverage packaging and labelling.
  • The use of mascots or characters popular with children to promote products.
  • Celebrity product endorsements.
  • Where companies place their products and displays, sponsoring sports teams and children’s programs.
  • Advertising products on popular websites, in movies, and in video games.
  • Contests and free giveaways.
  • Text messaging.
  • School fundraisers and other school events.

Did you know?

Children view four to five food and beverage ads per hour. When you consider children watch on average two hours of television a day – the number of food and beverage ads viewed by children adds up. This doesn’t take into account the ads they see during time they spend in front of other screens like smartphones, tablets and computers.

How are children and youth vulnerable to marketing?

Children believe what they see.

5, 8, 10 and 16 year old

  • Before the age of five, most children can’t tell the difference between an ad and a television show.
  • Before the age of eight, children are unlikely to know the reasons behind marketing.
  • By the age of ten to twelve, children know that ads sell products, but they are often unable to judge an ad. Youth in particular are vulnerable to digital marketing compared to other forms of marketing. It is viewed as entertainment, grabbing their focus and attention.

Healthy habits start in childhood. Children learn about nutrition through the marketing of food and beverages. Unhealthy eating over the course of time is linked to multiple diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and stroke.

Marketing influences foods that children eat and that they ask their parents to buy. Marketing can influence kids to eat unhealthy foods. It also makes unhealthy foods seem “normal.”

Marketing also extends beyond food and beverages to many other aspects of your children’s lives. Marketing of vaping, alcohol, cannabis, and more can influence your children’s choices and ultimately have a negative impact on their health. 

What can you do?

There are different ways to limit your child’s exposure to marketing. These include: 

  • Limit screen-time: By reducing the amount of time that your children spend in front of the television or other electronic devices, you can help reduce the number of ads that they see during a day.
  • Educate your children about marketing: Have a conversation with your children about marketing. Teach them how marketing can affect food choices and how to identify marketing techniques. Also, speak to them about what information they disclose online and how this can influence how they are targeted by ads. You can also show them how to choose foods without looking at ads, using tools such as food labels and using healthier grocery shopping  techniques.

  • Influence the environment outside of your home: Your children’s food choices are not only influenced by marketing on screens. They are also influenced by events where food and beverage companies are sponsors (e.g. in parks, malls, and theatres) and by branded materials offered at their schools. Speak to your child’s school to ensure that branded materials promoting unhealthy foods are not being used in the classroom, fundraisers, or donated to the schools. Also, try these healthy fundraising tips at your school’s next event to promote health and limit exposure to marketing. 

For more information

  • Media Smarts: Visit Media Smarts to find resources for parents on digital and media literacy. On this site, you will find various tools that can help you teach your kids about marketing. 

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