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Panel Makes Recommendations for Responsible Food Marketing to Kids


Each year, U.S. food and beverage companies spend nearly $2 billion on marketing to children. Now, a panel of experts has released a series of recommendations to help ensure that those dollars don’t go toward marketing unhealthy options to kids.

Though many companies and brands self-regulate when it comes to marketing to children, the authors of the recommendations note that: “Current efforts to improve food marketing practices aimed at children are inadequate,” and they “do not comprehensively address the wide range of digital and interactive media, venues, techniques, and marketing characteristics employed by businesses to market and advertise food and beverage products directly to children.”

The Institute of Medicine recommended in 2006 that groups involved in marketing food to children should work with government, scientific and public health communities to “establish and enforce high standards for the marketing of foods, beverages and meals” to kids. However, until this time the majority of that work has focused on solidifying nutritional standards and guidelines, and not so much on marketing. Compounding that issue is the fact that definitions of ideas in marketing are vastly different from one industry to the next.

In order encourage marketers to promote their products responsibly, a panel of experts coordinated by Healthy Eating Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has developed Recommendations for Responsible Food Marketing to Children, and made several evidence-based recommendations for food marketing, including:

  • When talking about marketing to children, the age range should be considered 2 to 14, rather than 2 to 11. Research has shown that children ages 12 to 14 are still greatly influenced by marketing due to higher levels of media consumption and disproportionate targeting by companies.
  • The definition of media and venues that are considered “child-directed” should be updated and broadened. An outlet should be considered child-directed if 25 percent of the audience is children, or if they are the intended target demographic.
  • Foods and beverages marketed to children should meet nutrition criteria. Additionally, marketing aimed at children should focus on healthy foods specifically – instead of on promoting their larger brand recognition – since many of their other products won’t meet the same criteria.

To create a common language around food marketing to children, the report also defines several aspects of marketing including brand definitions (brand, master brand, individual product brand). Additionally, the report specifies what types of strategies and techniques qualify as being appealing to or generally aimed at children: Premiums, character licensing and language specifically mentioning children or children’s interests are just a few.

Also included is a list of media and other platforms that should fall under these guidelines, ranging from traditional television and radio ads to social media posts and video ads on websites. The authors note that these guidelines should be followed in all venues that are child-directed, to include schools, athletic fields and in-school programming (including things like Channel One and Pizza Hut’s Book It! program) as well as out of school settings such as Boys and Girls Clubs, sports leagues and retail locations.

The authors conclude that, “These recommendations, when paired with strong nutrition criteria, will assist stakeholders as they work to create healthy food environments that contribute to building a Culture of Health for all children.”

To read the full report, please click here. Or for a shorter issue brief, please click here.