Study prompts call for ban on manipulative junk food advertising to children

February 7, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A ban on manipulative junk food advertising to children is urgently needed to help fight increasing rates of childhood obesity, say University of Otago Wellington researchers.

Free toys, gifts, discounts and competitions, promotional characters and celebrities, and appeals to taste and fun, are just some of the techniques used by marketers to promote to kids, according to a recent systematic literature review.

Lead researcher Dr Gabrielle Jenkin says most and parents will be familiar with the offer of free toys at McDonalds, slogans such as "open happiness" with Coke, and the use of licensed characters such as Spiderman or Spongebob Squarepants to promote junk food to children.

Persuasive food marketing is manipulative, especially for children, Dr Jenkin says.

"Such marketing has been proven to increase children's requests for the advertised foods, their food preferences and ultimately their diets. For example, free toys, discounts and competitions promote brand loyalty and repeat purchases," she says.

She and her University of Otago Wellington colleagues are calling for an outright ban on junk food advertising to children under 16, as has been done in Norway.

In the absence of a ban, new rules would need to be added to the advertising codes around the use of persuasive techniques, as has been done in the UK, Australian and Ireland, they say.

Dr Jenkin says the ubiquitous marketing of energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and beverages has come under increasing public health scrutiny by international health organisations who have called on governments to monitor and address the problem.

The World Health Organization recommends the reduction of "both the exposure of children to, and the power of, marketing of foods", she says. In a synthesis of peer-reviewed scientific research on persuasive marketing techniques used to promote food to children on television, the researchers found premium offers, the use of promotional characters, nutritional and health claims, and the themes of "taste" and "fun" were commonly uses to promote unhealthy food to children. The study is the first of its kind to focus on common techniques used to promote to children on television.

"Addressing this issue would make a meaningful contribution to curbing the international obesity epidemic besieging children throughout the world," says Dr Jenkin.

The research has been published in the latest edition of the international journal Obesity Reviews.

Explore further: Kids' fast food ads emphasize giveaways more than food

Related Stories

Kids' fast food ads emphasize giveaways more than food

August 28, 2013

Fast-food marketing aimed at children emphasizes giveaways and movie tie-ins much more frequently than ads targeted at adults, according to research published August 28 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by James Sargent ...

The truth about advertising junk food to children: It works

May 10, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Children exposed to advertisements for high-calorie and nutrient-poor foods consume more unhealthy foods overall, regardless of the specific product and brand being marketed, finds a new study from the ...

Recommended for you

Now is the lightest you will weigh all year

September 28, 2016

As swimsuit season wanes and the holiday season edges closer, Americans everywhere should take a moment to enjoy the current state of their waistline. For the average person, the time just before the start of the holiday ...

Study reveals a biological link between stress and obesity

September 21, 2016

Metabolic and anxiety-related disorders both pose a significant healthcare burden, and are in the spotlight of contemporary research and therapeutic efforts. Although intuitively we assume that these two phenomena overlap, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.