Marketing Kids’ Foods to Parents: A New Setback in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the US, with over one-third of children in the US being classified as overweight (BMI above the 85th percentile for age) or obese (BMI above the 95th percentile). According to the CDC, 18% of US children ages 6-11 and 21% of adolescents ages 12-19 were obese in 2012. The etiology of childhood obesity is multifactorial, a mix of activity level and lifestyle, food choices and availability, but the bottom line is that many children consume more calories than they expend.
Common “children’s foods” certainly contribute to the obesity crisis. These calorie-rich, high-sugar snacks are easily visible to children and readily available for purchase. They are often advertised during children’s television programming, employing animation, licensed characters, and other “fun” attributes to increase kids’ desires and requests for snack foods. However, as health-conscious parents and advocacy groups push to limit children’s exposure to these ads, a new strategy is emerging: manufacturers are marketing kids’ foods to parents. Advertisers play to parents’ desires to provide healthy foods in a nurturing family setting, often overstating the nutritional value of common kids’ snacks.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, television commercials for children’s food or beverage products were analyzed. The advertisements were aired on popular US children’s television stations from March 2012 through February 2013. Ads targeting parents accounted for approximately 42% of advertising airtime. Sugary drinks, yogurt, and ready-to-eat cereals were the most commonly promoted items.
Compared with commercials aimed at kids, parent-directed commercials more often featured nutritional messaging and emotional appeals. Specific attributes included: