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How Parents Can Protect Kids From Unhealthy Food Marketing

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Digital marketing is the most sought out marketing tactic used across industries today. Fast food companies have especially found success using social media and internet trends.

Like many industries, the fast-food vertical is spending billions of dollars to attract customers, and those funds go toward influencing your children. Forward-thinking business leaders know that if they can earn the brand loyalty of your child now, they may very well become a lifetime customer.

Resultantly, a disproportionate amount of fast food advertising targets children. With awareness of the problem, parents can fight back against the billion-dollar advertiser onslaught – an attack designed to increase the profits of fast food franchises at the expense of the health of millions of the world’s children.

Parents must keep an ever-watchful eye on the eating habits of children to protect them from domineering media influences that hock unhealthy food.

The Dangers of a Fast Food Diet

Fast food consumption is a severe health threat that contributes to obesity. With each fast food meal, children increase their intake of calories, fat, and sugar.

According to Sarah Irvine Belson, expert and interim vice provost for research at the School of Education at American University, student health, specifically a child’s diet and amount of physical activity, has direct and indirect impacts on educational outcomes, including standardized tests scores, classroom behavior problems, and hyperactivity.

Fast food – described by many researchers as a typical “Western diet” that includes high calorie, low nutrient-dense food – can have particularly negative impacts on academic performance.  Research consistently indicates that healthier students are better learners.”

Children typically continue their learned eating habits well into adulthood. Resultantly, fast food advertising targeted at children threatens the group’s health now and in the future.

A recent group study of children reveals that advertisers exposed approximately 40% of participants to fast food ads before the start of the research. Among the children, 38% were more likely to eat fast food compared to those who companies did not expose to advertising.

Researchers also noted that McDonald’s was responsible for most of the advertising targeted at children. Among fast-food companies, McDonald’s generates nearly three-quarters of TV advertising.

Also, the well-known chain represented nearly 80% of the children’s fast-food consumption. Furthermore, children consume fast food not only while in the care of their parents but also with other care providers such as grandparents or other relatives.

Fast Food Advertising Leads to Bad Habits for Kids

Generation Z ranges in age from 4 to 24 years old. Studies show that 50% of consumers with disposable income up to the age of 24 make buying decisions based on brand loyalty. Many members of Generation Z develop brand loyalty during childhood, and advertisers want to duplicate that sentiment among today’s youth.

In recent years, food industry business leaders have publicly committed to promoting nutritional health. Instead, however, fast food enterprises have shifted their marketing efforts to target minority children.

Scientists have discovered that companies that sell the least nutritious food target black and Hispanic youth. Research shows that advertisers target young black viewers 50% more compared to the previous four years. This development has emerged even after many fast food companies have promised to promote healthy eating.

Despite their pledges to promote nutrition, fast food companies spent $11 billion on television advertising in 2017. Research shows that black teens were twice as likely as Caucasian teens to view those commercials.

Fast food chains target children ages 2 through 11 the most, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Also, children under the age of six can’t distinguish between advertisements and television programs. Accordingly, preschool children are more vulnerable to the influence of targeted advertisements.

These findings probably won’t surprise most parents. However, parents must recognize that their current eating habits and the amount of television that their children watch significantly contribute to lifelong dietary patterns.

There’s Seemingly No Escape

Now, advertisers have expanded their reach to kid’s iPads, smartphones and other electronic devices. In addition to television advertising, fast food chains also expose children to brand messages on social media.

To date, there are no regulations regarding fast food advertising to children. Nevertheless, such advertisements are highly effective.

Studies show that fast-food marketing directly contributes to childhood obesity. Furthermore, social media advertising reinforces other brand messages, such as those on billboards and print ads.

Using the latest digital innovations, advertisers target kids with promotions for food that’s high in sugar, fat and salt content. Resultantly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has compelled lawmakers to somehow reduce fast food social media advertising to children.

Fighting Back

The percentage of children that physicians diagnose with obesity has surged from a little over 6% in the 70’s to over 20% today. Childhood obesity exposes youth to a wide range of potential health problems.

According to the World Health Organization, over 2.5 million people die annually because of obesity. Also, the states of New Mexico, Nebraska and Virginia, reported that 15% of all high school students were obese in 2017.

To fight back, parents should limit their child’s screen time and encourage participation in physical activity. By helping kids to develop the right eating habits now, parents can ensure the physical health of their children for the rest of their lives.

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About author
Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs, with a keen focus on data collection and analysis.
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