Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
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Food Marketing to Youth

Food marketing to children and adolescents is a major public health concern. The food industry spends $1.8 billion per year in the U.S. on marketing targeted to young people. The overwhelming majority of these ads are for unhealthy products, high in calories, sugar, fat, and/or sodium.

On television alone the average U.S. child sees approximately 13 food commercials every day, or 4,700 a year; and teens see more than 16 per day, or 5,900 in a year. The food products advertised most extensively include high-sugar breakfast cereals, fast food and other restaurants, candy, and sugary drinks. In comparison, children see about one ad per week for healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, and bottled water.

Companies increasingly market to young people anywhere they spend their time, including in schools, on the Internet, and on mobile phones. They continue to find new and creative ways to reach children, often blurring the line between content and advertising and encouraging children to send marketing messages to their friends through YouTube, Facebook, and other social media. Food company websites targeted to children usually contain advergames and other entertaining content to keep them engaged with the brands as long as possible.

The messages in youth-targeted food advertisements encourage children to pester their parents to buy the products, promote snacking between meals, and portray positive outcomes from consuming high-calorie, nutritionally-poor foods. To children it appears cool, fun, and exciting to eat these unhealthy products anytime, anywhere. 

Food marketing has a direct and powerful impact on young people's food preferences and eating behaviors and negatively influences their diet, weight, and health.

Best and Worst Food Marketing to Children

Research and resources