New Study: Parents Support Restrictions on The Marketing of Food to Kids

I’m catching up on news items from last week and wanted to share an important new study from The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity regarding how parents view food industry marketing practices targeted toward their children, a study which, according to the Rudd Center, is the first of its kind.

Surveying 2,454 parents with children aged 2 to 17, the Rudd Center found that:

Parents were as concerned about junk food marketing to children as they were about alcohol and tobacco use in the media. The surveyed parents were highly aware of the “pester power” of food marketing and its effects on their children’s food preferences.

Photo credit: Yale Rudd Center

The report also found relatively high parental support for a variety of policies to promote healthier eating among children, including some restrictions on the advertising of food to kids.  Specifically, the report found that:

The majority of parents surveyed . . . endorsed policies to restrict food marketing to children, with highest support for prohibiting advertising on school buses (69%) and requiring companies to fund advertising for healthy and unhealthy foods equally (68%). Parents also approved of regulations to limit specific types of unhealthy food marketing to children under 12, including advertising/sponsorships in schools (65%), mobile marketing (65%), TV commercials (63%), viral marketing (62%), and internet advertising (61%).

There is much more to be learned from this groundbreaking study, including the environmental factors parents cite most often as obstacles to healthy eating and analyses of the responses along ethnic and political lines.  The entire report is found here.

Given that food industry self-regulation in this area has been almost comically weak, and given how hard (and successfully) the industry lobbied last year against purely voluntary federal advertising guidelines, it’s clear that only political pressure from consumers and parents will bring about real reforms.  In quantifying parents’ views about these issues for the first time, the Rudd Center brings us a step closer to making those reforms a reality.

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  1. bw1 says

    Wow, some big news – yet another special interest group has an issue with free speech.

    No one forces you to have a television in your home.

    • Uly says

      Parents are a special interest group, but corporations are people with the right of free speech, and if I don’t want them telling my kid what to buy I should just opt out of a major part of our society altogether.

      Sometimes I just don’t understand this brave new world of ours.

      • Bettina Elias Siegel says

        Well, we restrict the marketing of all kinds of things to children – alcohol, cigarettes, mature films, etc. A corporation’s right to free speech isn’t unlimited, especially when the recipient of the message is a child. Your comment has me thinking … look forward to a guest post (I hope!) about this topic in the near future.

              • bw1 says

                No cite, just generational observations. In the 70’s when advertising was unrestricted, it was largely unheard of. In the 80’s at the same high school, when advertising was restricted, it was common, and in the 00’s, it was pretty much the norm.
                EdT, inverse correlation does negate causality.

                • says

                  “… inverse correlation does negate causality.”

                  True, when you have actual data to back up the claim. According to my mother (who grew up well before the 1970s), there were many societal ills (including underage drinking/smoking, teenage unwed pregnancy, etc.) that pre-dated the Age of Television and Madison Avenue.


                  • bw1 says

                    “that pre-dated the Age of Television and Madison Avenue.”

                    Which only goes to support my point that vices don’t need marketing campaigns

        • says

          I was actually thinking more along the lines of “…commercial speech isn’t afforded the same level of protection under the First Amendment as other types of speech (e.g. political advocacy).” Of course IANaL, but I do think I recall reading that on more than one instance.

          Also, the support for regulation on advertising/”sponsorship” (a form of brand-promotion) in the schools (a place where children, by law, are required to be, thus countering the “just turn it off” argument) is right up there with the others. Makes perfect sense to this limited-government conservative.


          • bw1 says

            I’m 110% with you on the “in school” point, but then again, the government really shouldn’t be in the school business to begin with.

            • says

              Not sure I totally agree that government shouldn’t be in the “school business”. Historically, in this country it has been more of a local responsibility vs. a federal or even state one, however the community has been heavily involved in education, and since we are self-governing, that sort of makes it a “government” type of activity (though some schools are private or church-based.)


              • bw1 says

                Hitsorically, the government has, for about 1/3 of the country’s history, been in the school business, and for a significant portion of that time, that meant paying for education but not necessarily delivering it.
                The controversies here demonstrate the problem – when the government is teaching OR feeding your kids, how they do so becomes a massive political football,
                The decay of our public education system is caused by the futile attempt to educate the unwilling, which can’t happen without replacing the values that make them unwilling. You can’t do that without indoctrinating. That’s no role for government in a free society.

      • bw1 says

        Yes, parents are a special interest group – if you doubt that, try suggesting eliminating the tax deduction for children (hint: one of the presidential candidates proposed it – he lost.)

        Yes, if you want to avoid certain toxic influences, you may have to opt out of certain things. In past generations, people understood parenting involved sacrifices. Do you honestly mean to suggest that television is a net benefit to your children?

        Or, as an alternative, you could just try telling your kid NO. We watched plenty of advertising as kids, and requested all sorts of products that my parents saw as detrimental. We heard the word “no” a lot, too. Contrary to your implied expectations, I did not grow up to be an axe murderer.

        • Uly says

          Corporations don’t spend billions of dollars in advertising so we can “just say no”. It’s tempting to think that we all are totally free individuals, with nothing affecting our thoughts and actions, but the evidence suggests that this is simply not the case. I don’t like having to tell my kid no all the time, and no, I don’t think there is any harm in half an hour of TV every day.

          • bw1 says

            The GOP and their surrogates spent SIX BILLION in advertising in the past few months, and yet, Americans managed to just say no.

            What evidence shows that we are mindless automatons, helplessly enraptured by the Svengali media?

            What you like is not always what is good for your kid, and 99% of America’s kids could benefit from less TV.

              • bw1 says

                It has nothing to do with whether I like it (I don’t)
                It’s about realizing that freedom of speech means they have a right to say what they want, and I have a right to ignore it. What you OR I like is irrelevant because we don’t get to tell others what they can and can’t say like some sort of Taliban.

    • says

      No one forces you to sit in a theater to watch a movie/play/opera, either. And yet, the courts have ruled that the First Amendment does not protect one’s right to shout “FIRE!” in such a venue (unless, of course, there is an actual fire in progress.)

      And while parents may be a “special interest group”, they are a very large special interest group – and political advocacy is an essential ingredient in participatory self-governance.

      Hence, I don’t have an issue with the fact that they have an issue, and have chosen to express their issue.


  2. bw1 says

    “Broad overview?” More like an axe-grinding piece of advocacy, not by a legal scholar, but by a FOOD writer. Excerpt:

    “It’s easy to get lost in the Constitution and forget that we’re talking about children being bombarded by propaganda so clever and sophisticated that it amounts to brainwashing”

    So, the Constitution is some sort of rabbit hole down which we are drawn as a distraction from the proposed statist/leftist mantra of “it’s for the CHILDREN,” and this is supported through the alarmist use of emotionally loaded terms like “brainwashing.”

    Notably missing from his EDITORIAL is any assertion that any household is forced to own, turn on, or watch a TV. Maybe if Bittman and his ilk didn’t proceed from the implicit postulate that one TV is forced on people, that would go a long way to curbing obesity.

    Calls for regulation of advertising to kids are nothing more than another instance in a long line of attempts to abdicate parenting responsibility to the government.

    Years ago, 60 Minutes featured another such crusade – parents calling on Congress to regulate the prices of Kellogg’s and Post’s brand name cereals. There was a sequence with Mike Wallace standing in front of an array of Kellogg’s products in a supermarket, and pointing out that one could find more reasonable prices by simply looking down. He then squatted down and pointed out the “brand X” cereals sold on the bottom shelf in plastic bags with no cartoon characters, which cost less than half what the big brands cost.

    He then interviewed the parents organizing to ask Congress for regulation. When he asked them why not just buy the bag cereals, they said “Our kids won’t eat those.” Exactly WHO is in charge in these households? Why should the rest of the world be constrained to facilitate and compensate for the abject terror you apparently feel at the prospect of being a parent instead of a peer and exposing your children to the word “NO?”

    The world has plenty of mature, responsible parents willing to occasionally be something other than a non-stop gratification machine/doormat for their kids. Parents who face down the little tyrants and deny them something that Madison Ave., their degenerate peers, or those who would exploit them, have striven to convince them they will die without. Those influences are then blunted by being proven wrong, when, lo and behold, the little dears actually survive the “trauma” of being denied something they want. I know because I’ve seen it – I used to live in a neighborhood where half the households with children did not own a television, despite being able to easily afford several.

    With the parenting approach you’re implying, it’s no wonder that fewer than 10% of kids graduate high school without trying recreational drugs.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      The logical extension of your argument, bw1, is that we should allow ads for cigarettes, alcohol and R- or X-rated movies on Saturday morning cartoons because it’s solely up to parents to control access to those messages. I’m not necessarily equating junk food with those other products, mind you, but I am pointing up the fact that our society does deem it reasonable — at least in some contexts — to control the messages to which children are exposed (rather than placing the burden on parents). Whether one thinks junk food ads merit similar restrictions is of course the crux of the debate.

  3. bw1 says

    “The logical extension of your argument, bw1, is that we should allow ads for cigarettes, alcohol and R- or X-rated movies on Saturday morning cartoons”

    And your point is? If parents have half a brain, the marketplace will handle it, If ABC starts airing such ads on Saturday morning cartoons, NBC, CBS, and FOX will bury them in the ratings – you seem to forget that a given channel’s ability to SELL ad time is predicated upon people’s willingness to watch them. This is even more true now in a world of largely pay to play cafeteria video content delivery and parental controls on every TV. There are already networks that limit such advertising in response to market demand.
    By all means, I ENCOURAGE parents to collectively and individually make their preferences known to TV content vendors, and “shop” those who are responsive with their parental controls and supervision. Organize a boycott of networks that fail to meet your wishes. You wouldn’t patronize a barber who doesn’t cut your hair the way you want, would you?

    Put aside the essentially fascist impulse to have government force your preferences on others by outlawing the options you don’t like. Grow a spine and use the numerous options you already have to control the influences to which your children are exposed.

    Stop asking government to be your personal Procrustean bed, and have enough faith in your own beliefs to let others raise their kids as they wish, confident that you’ll be vindicated when their obese, lonely, addicted, homeless kids are pumping gas for your fit and trim, well adjusted happily married, successful kids someday.

  4. Michelle says

    The discussion seems largely centered on TV but I would like to add that marketing to children occurs in many venues that are hard for parents to avoid: school (my child’s teacher celebrated the Oreo’s 100th birthday), sports fields, team sports (my friend’s daughter’s hockey team are called the “Doritos”; my children’s gymnastics level are called “Skittles” with the other levels names after branded candies) , children and young adult fiction, billboards and in some states school bus advertisements, in school television programs, in school vending machines and products in the cafeteria, and embedded within cartoons and movies (versus the expected place of advertisements), not to mention the grocery store. Short of a blindfold or bowing out of society altogether, I don’t have the option to prevent companies from marketing directly to my children.

    • bw1 says

      If some idiots in your community choose to name a sports team for a snack chip, pull your child from the program, and tell them why you’re doing it. Tell other parents directly as well, don’t depend on those with a vested interest to be honest about it. Find like minded parents, and organize a program that doesn’t engage in such stupidity. These programs are pay to play – you are a PAYING CUSTOMER – start demanding to be treated like one.

      • says

        Some sports teams are totally funded via entrance fees (“pay for play”.) Others, are either school- 0r community-based, getting some funding from user fees, others from sponsorships or advertising (billboards on the outfield fences), still others from the community coffers (i.e. “the government”.) That latter group – not so easy to “Just Say No” (though I guess we could simply vote to Throw The Bums Out.)


        • bw1 says

          Start your own league and solicit your own sponsors.
          I’d also like to see the local government that mandates naming teams after junk food brands. It would take about three seconds to get a judge to put an end to that.

          Better yet, get your child involved in an individual sport that doesn’t require an organization whose agenda may offend you. Get rid of all the peer pressure problems and other nastiness of team sports. A kid who starts running will be able to stay fit at any point in his life with nothing more than a decent pair of shoes, whereas the kid who only knows how to be active in a team sport will forever need an institution to get exercise.

  5. ayam says

    I recently had an experience with this. My daughter was watching TV, which she DOES NOT get to do often. She came running in the kitchen and announced, “Mommy! That cereal that you don’t let me have will actually help me to grow big and strong!” It was very disturbing to see this sweet and innocent child be so easily convinced of such a notion. Then, I became angry. How dare they be allowed to OUT RIGHT LIE to people!! Not only are our children easily influenced, but many adults also don’t have the 1st clue about was is healthy. There are actually VERY FEW cereals that are healthy. Most have way too much sugar, and are highly processed, extremely UNHEALTHY foods. So, for me, it’s the way these foods are presented as being “healthy” to children that angers me.

    • bw1 says

      How healthy they are, and at what frequency of consumption, is a debatable proposition. Whether butter or margarine is healthier changes more often than the ruling party. “OUTRIGHT LIES” isn’t really accurate, but then, neither would “gospel truth” be.

      You now have an excellent opportunity to teach your child about how little we actually know, the difference between opinion and fact, and how to evaluate claims based on vested interests. You can use this to teach her the critical thinking skills she needs in life. If you think the cereal company is telling her outright lies, wait 15 years and see what the boys will be telling her to get what they want – better start teaching discernment now.


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