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Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?
ing categories, one-third of children’s direct purchases are for sweets, snacks, and beverages, followed by toys and apparel (Schor, 2004). Of the top 10 items that children ages 8–12 years report they can select without parental permission, the leading four are food or beverage categories: candy or snacks, soft drinks, fast food from quick serve restaurants, and breakfast cereals (Chaplin, 1999). Similarly, food or beverages—particularly candy, sweetened soft drinks, and salty snacks—represent the top items that teens ages 13–17 years buy with their own money (MPA, 2004; Chapter 4).
Approximately half of all commercials during children’s television programming consists of branded foods and beverages that are disproportionately high in salt and calories (e.g., high fat, high sugar), and low in essential nutrients (IOM, 2005)—primarily sweetened cereals, candies and snacks, carbonated soft drinks and sweetened beverages, and fast food (Gamble and Cotugna, 1999). Additionally, companies use advertising and other marketing techniques that associate these specific foods with fun and pleasurable experiences (Hawkes, 2002; Schlosser, 2001).
When high-calorie and low-nutrient foods and beverages are marketed to infants, toddlers, and young children who have an innate biological preference for high-calorie foods that are sweet and salty (Benton, 2004; Mennella and Beauchamp, 1998), or when these types of products are marketed to parents, schools, or child-care settings and made easily available and accessible in their environments, there is a much greater opportunity and likelihood that children will develop sustained preferences for these products. Indeed, young children typically reject new foods and may need to be introduced to a new food as many as 5 to 10 times before they will accept it (Birch, 1999). Children’s preferences for foods that lack sweet and salty tastes are learned and require repeated positive experiences, especially to accept fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods later in life (Birch 1999; Skinner et al., 2002; Chapter 3). When accompanied by physical inactivity, preferences for and consumption of high-calorie foods and beverages over time set in motion the circumstances that contribute to weight gain and obesity, especially for children and youth who are genetically predisposed to gaining weight in an obesogenic environment (IOM, 2005).
Moreover, the contemporary media landscape offers many more options to market messages about foods and beverages to children and youth than just a decade ago, encompassing broadcast, satellite, and cable television; the video cassette recorder and digital video disk (DVD) recorder; portable audio media (e.g., radio, tapes, CDs, DVDs, MP3 players); print media (e.g., magazines, newspapers, books); computers and the online activities they provide with Internet access (e.g., e-mail, instant messaging, advergaming); and cell phones that can connect to the Internet and provide