Food marketing to children is big business, and strongly influences children's food preferences and purchase requests, according to a 2006 Institute of Medicine Report, "Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity". As a result, this and other reports say, childhood obesity is rising.
The statistics are compelling:
- In 2006, food and beverage companies spent more than $1.6 billion,
or 63% of their marketing budgets, to promote food and beverages to children (Federal Trade Commission, 2008)
- The average American child has more than 7.5 hours of screen time per day: watching TV or movies, using cell phones or computers, and playing videos (Kaiser Foundation, 2010) and sees about 40,000 ads per year on TV, the majority of them for candy, cereal, soda or fast food (Kaiser Foundation, 2010)
- The percentage of obese or overweight children nationally is at or above 30 percent in 30 states (Trust for America's Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2009)
With social media, contact between food companies and youth is growing more intimate, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. (Subscriber access only, unfortunately.)
A teachable moment
Family- and youth-serving professionals can help their audiences to understand the influence of food marketing messages. We can also provide tools and strategies to reduce that influence. I believe is vital that we spend education time on social awareness, responsible decision-making and media literacy skills.
Here are some youth program resources that can help youth to dissect the marketing messages that bombard them:
Fighting Junk Food Marketing to Kids: a toolkit for advocates was developed by the Berkeley Media Studies Group to help community advocates understand how food marketing affects kids' health and what they can do about it at the local level. It is designed to be used in conjunction with the video "Fighting Junk Food Marketing to Kids," which illustrates community-based responses to marketing.
Don't Buy It: Get Media Smart is a media literacy website backed by public television that encourage young users to think critically about media and become smart consumers. Activities provide users with some of the skills and knowledge needed to question, analyze, interpret and evaluate media messages.
One of the core competencies of the 4-H Healthy Living Logic Model is social awareness. Youth need to understand the impacts of media and cultural messages and use media literacy skills to deconstruct harmful messages. It is our responsibility to enhance our youth's positive social and emotional development.
"Targeted Food Marketing to Youth", is an online training curriculum nearing pilot completion for professionals who work with parents of children birth to 7 and professionals who work with children ages 8-13. I am working with a team of youth and family educators here at the University of Minnesota Extension to develop it. Course objectives are to:
- Identify marketing techniques and strategies the food industry uses to market to children
- Recognize trends in early childhood nutrition
- Recognize developmental stages in children's comprehension
- Grow understanding of marketing and different media
- Acquire strategies to help parents set limits for nutrition food and beverage choices in and out of the home and utilize tools to teach parents and youth how food marketing influences food choices.
It is based on the Media-Smart Youth: Eat, Think & Be Active curriculum and will contain tools and strategies for professionals teaching parents and youth, and lesson outlines for a six-session series and a three- or six-hour day camp for youth aged 8-13.
Do you see the need for youth media literacy? How have you incorporated media literacy education into your youth work practice, teaching or research?