Marketing to Kids – Get the Junk Out and the Good Stuff In

I usually try and do the grocery shopping by myself – no kids – no husband. That way I can buy the foods we need with no pressure, no pleas and no whining!  But the last time I took my 6 year old son with me – I had a cute little surprise. He jumped from his perch on the cart and ran over to a pile of plums and yelled “dinosaur eggs!!!” and then he did a silly little dog pant to communicate just how much he wanted the plums.

And that demonstrates the power of marketing for the forces of good. Our local grocer used to carry plums with a dinosaur sticker, he was only three at the time and we shopped at that store until he was about four and a half. But obviously, the power of that branding still has sway today.

Unfortunately, a tremendous amount money and creative talent goes into turning our children into lifelong consumers of junk foods and drinks – and for the most part, it is working. A UCLA study on junk food advertising that came out last year found that, “during Saturday morning cartoons, children see an average of one food ad every five minutes. The vast majority of these ads — up to 95% — are for foods with poor nutritional value”. The researchers concluded that “among all children, commercial viewing was significantly associated with higher BMI” (weight in proportion to height).

This is not the only study to associate marketing with higher rates of obesity in children. There are many others and this is why BCAHL and other groups such as Dietitians of Canada, Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada (CDPAC), the Centre for Science in  the Public Interest and others have called on the government of Canada to ban the marketing of junk foods and drinks to children.

Last week, BCAHL Chair, Barbara Kaminsky and Director, Mary Collins made a presentation to MPs on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health conducting a study on Healthy Living Issues and urged them to take action on childhood obesity by banning advertising to children.

On the flip side, it would be great if there were more marketing of the ‘good stuff’.  In Iceland a TV program called LazyTown has been credited with declining child obesity levels.

It might seem counter-intuitive but LazyTown’s superhero Sportacus motivates kids to eat healthy and be active. According to a UK report, “In one [Icelandic] supermarket chain, all the fruit and vegetables were branded ‘Sports Candy’ – LazyTown’s name for fruit and vegetables – leading to a 22% increase in sales.”

I’ve seen the power of marketing on my own child and his friends – they go ga-ga for toy promotions, advergames and anything with a cartoon figure. Of course, if it means that by giving in to the nagging, I’m risking my child’s heath then count me out but if it’s about an extra big bag of plums – I’m willing to buy into that.

Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy & Communications

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