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Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?

Armen Hareyan's picture

Food Marketing and Health

Creating an environment in which U.S. children and youth can grow up healthy should be a high priority for the nation. Yet the prevailing pattern of food and beverage marketing to children and youth in America represents, at best, a missed opportunity, and at worst, a direct threat to the health prospects of the next generation.

Dietary patterns begin in childhood and shape the health of Americans, which result from an interplay of many factors: genetics and biology, culture and values, economics, physical and social environments, and commercial media environments. Ensuring that environments are supportive of good health is a fundamental responsibility, requiring leadership and action from all sectors.

How marketing influences children and youth is the focus of the IOM report, Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity? The report provides the most comprehensive review to date of the scientific evidence on the influence of food marketing on diets and diet-related health of children and youth. The study was requested by Congress and sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report finds that current food and beverage marketing practices puts children's long-term health at risk. If America's children and youth are to develop eating habits that help them avoid early onset of diet-related chronic diseases, they have to reduce their intake of high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks, fast foods, and sweetened drinks, which make up a high proportion of the products marketed to them.

The report provides recommendations for different segments of society to guide the development of effective marketing and advertising strategies that promote healthier foods, beverages, and meal options to children and youth. Recommendations are provided for

  • the food beverage, and restaurant industries;

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  • food retailers and trade associations;

  • the entertainment industry and the media;

  • parents and caregivers;

  • schools; and

  • the government.

The report offers guidance on research activities necessary to chart the path of future improvements, and the capacity to monitor and track improvements in marketing practices that have an influence on children's and youth's diets and diet-related health. The recommendations reflect the current context and information in a rapidly changing environment, and should be implemented together as a package to support and complement one another.