overall health. The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) recent report, Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance (IOM, 2005), recognizes that children, youth, and their parents are immersed in a modern milieu where the physical, social, commercial, and media environments have all undergone significant transformations over the past several decades. These broader environments now contribute to the rising prevalence of obesity in children and youth, thereby impacting their diets and health through a chain of events that can have profound effects extending far into adulthood (IOM, 2005; NRC and IOM, 2004). On the other hand, there exists unrealized potential to shift the broader environmental signals to encourage healthy lifestyles in which eating habits and physical activity behaviors promote healthy energy balance and nutritional status, and therefore work to prevent obesity and related chronic diseases (IOM, 2005; Peters et al., 2002).
Like adults, children and adolescents acquire new information and knowledge through both explicit and implicit learning—that is, through the processes of dedicated, didactic, and educational experiences, as well as through passive, automatic, and unconscious acquisition of abstract knowledge that remains robust over time (Cleeremans et al., 1998). In addition, they acquire information through the socialization process that helps them to develop their roles and behaviors as consumers and as members of society. The family is the first socializing agent because parents and older siblings act as sources of information and provide social support and pressure that affect children’s behaviors (Moore et al., 2002). There are also diverse social and cultural norms and values that influence eating and physical activity. Whether influenced by their parents and siblings, or by other signals in their environments, children buy food and other goods and influence the purchasing decisions of their parents and caregivers (McNeal, 1999).
Children acquire consumer socialization skills early in life, developing consumption motives and values as they are exposed to commercial activities. They develop knowledge about advertising, products, brands, pricing and shopping, and they adopt purchase requests and negotiation strategies that may be the result of marketing activities (John, 1999). Children must have certain basic information-processing skills to fully understand advertising messages (Gunter et al., 2005; Kunkel, 2001). They must be able to discriminate, at a perceptual level, commercial from noncommercial content, and they must be able to attribute persuasive intent to advertising and to adjust their interpretation of commercial messages based on that knowledge. Each of these capabilities develops over time, largely as a function of cognitive growth and development rather than the accumulation of any particular amount of experience with media content (John, 1999; Young, 1990), including the acquisition of media literacy skills. Although cognitive