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Child-focused advertising restrictions for unhealthy foods & beverages

Evidence Rating

Some Evidence

Health Factors

Child-focused advertising restrictions for unhealthy foods and beverages minimize corporate appeals to children and adolescents who may not be aware of persuasive intent. Prohibiting unhealthy food and beverage advertising during children’s television programming, incentivizing healthy food advertising, or banning product placement of unhealthy foods and beverages in children’s movies are examples of policies that restrict advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages (LHC-Rockeymoore 2014). Restrictions can also be implemented through school wellness policies, or be legislated at the local, state, or federal level. In 2014, children viewed on average approximately 13 television ads per day for foods, beverages, and restaurants, while adolescents viewed 15, and adults viewed 20. Such advertisements were mostly for foods of little or no nutritional value (Rudd-Shehan 2015).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Improved dietary habits

  • Reduced unhealthy food consumption

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced obesity rates

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that child-focused advertising restrictions for unhealthy foods and beverages improve children’s dietary habits and decrease unhealthy food consumption (, NBER-Grossman 2012, , Veerman 2009, AHA-Mozaffarian 2012). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Children’s food preferences, choices, and short-term consumption are negatively affected by unhealthy food advertising (, ). In one study, exposure to fast food restaurant advertising on television increased body fat percentage for adolescents (NBER-Grossman 2012). Another study suggests that reducing advertising of unhealthy foods decreases average body mass index (BMI) for 6 to 12 year olds (Veerman 2009).

Unhealthy food advertising bans that cover an entire area can affect families’ purchasing decisions (Dhar 2011). Living in a census tract with more outdoor advertisements for food and beverages is associated with greater odds of obesity (Lesser 2013). Some researchers recommend that schools eliminate all food marketing (McKenna 2010), while others recommend marketing only healthy options (McKenna 2010, , ). Child development experts suggest social media-based advertising for unhealthy foods may be harder for children and youth to recognize than other types of advertising (Powell 2013b).

Advertising restrictions may be an opportunity to reduce disparities in food marketing aimed at youth of color (Rudd-Harris 2015). Reports suggest that black and Hispanic youth are exposed to more advertising for unhealthy foods and beverages than white, non-Hispanic youth (Rudd-Harris 2015), and that there is more child-directed marketing at fast food restaurants located in rural areas than urban areas, in middle-income than high-income areas, and majority black than majority white communities ().

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the US Department of Agriculture to set guidelines to improve school food environments, which include local school wellness policies that restrict food and beverage marketing to children in schools and ensure that any advertising reinforces healthy choices. State legislation also supports school wellness policies and obesity prevention programs that can include advertising restriction guidelines (NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014). Maine, for example, bans advertising of junk food at school (Whatley-Blum 2011). Canada, Norway, Sweden, and the UK regulate advertising to children and adolescents, especially for unhealthy foods and beverages (WHO-Marketing framework 2012).

In 2013, beverage companies spent $866 million advertising sugar-sweetened beverages to children and teens (Rudd-Harris 2014). In 2009, 48 companies spent $9.65 billion on food advertising, with $1.79 billion directed to children and teens (FTC-Food marketing 2012). TV advertising expenditures declined from 2006 to 2009; however, this appears to be partially due to reductions in costs for 30-second TV ads and budget shifts to new media marketing expenditures. Unhealthy food advertising to teens has increased since 2007 (Powell 2013b). 

Implementation Resources

ChangeLab-Food and beverage marketing - ChangeLab Solutions. Food & beverage marketing.

AHA-VFHK toolkits - American Heart Association (AHA), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Voices for healthy kids (VFHK): Toolkits to make the healthy choice the easy choice in the places where children live, learn and play.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). 2014.

PHLC-Food marketing - Public Health Law Center (PHLC). Food marketing to kids.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Story 2008* - Story M, Kaphingst KM, Robinson-O’Brien R, Glanz K. Creating healthy food and eating environments: Policy and environmental approaches. Annual Review of Public Health. 2008;29:253-72.

Dhar 2011 - Dhar T, Baylis K. Fast-food consumption and the ban on advertising targeting children: The Quebec experience. Journal of Marketing Research. 2011;48(5):799-813.

Dixon 2007* - Dixon HG, Scully ML, Wakefield MA, White VM, Crawford DA. The effects of television advertisements for junk food versus nutritious food on children’s food attitudes and preferences. Social Science & Medicine. 2007;65(7):1311-23.

McKenna 2010 - McKenna ML. Policy options to support healthy eating in schools. Canadian Journal of Public Health. Revue Canadienne de Santé Publique. 2010;101(8 Suppl 2):S14-7.

NBER-Grossman 2012 - Grossman M, Tekin E, Wada R. Fast-food restaurant advertising on television and its influence on youth body composition. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2012: Working Paper 18640.

Veerman 2009 - Veerman JL, Van Beeck EF, Barendregt JJ, Mackenbach JP. By how much would limiting TV food advertising reduce childhood obesity? European Journal of Public Health. 2009;19(4):365–9.

Boyland 2012* - Boyland EJ, Halford JCG. Regulation of food advertising to children on television: Is it necessary and does it work? CAB Reviews. 2012;7(65):1–10.

IOM-Food marketing 2006* - Food and Nutrition Board; Board on Children, Youth and Families. Food marketing to children and youth: Threat or opportunity? (McGinnis JM, Gootman JA, Kraak VI, eds.). Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine (IOM); 2006.

Lesser 2013 - Lesser LI, Zimmerman FJ, Cohen DA. Outdoor advertising, obesity, and soda consumption: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health. 2013;13:20.

AHA-Mozaffarian 2012 - Mozaffarian D, Afshin A, Benowitz NL, et al. Population approaches to improve diet, physical activity, and smoking habits: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). Circulation. 2012;126(12):1514–63.

Rudd-Harris 2015 - Harris JL, Shehan C, Gross R, et al. Food advertising targeted to Hispanic and Black youth: Contributing to health disparities. Hartford: Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity; 2015.

Ohri-Vachaspati 2015* - Ohri-Vachaspati P, Isgor Z, Rimkus L, et al. Child-directed marketing inside and on the exterior of fast food restaurants. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2015;48(1):22-30.

Powell 2013b - Powell LM, Harris JL, Fox T. Food marketing expenditures aimed at youth putting the numbers in context. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;45(4):453-461.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Whatley-Blum 2011 - Whatley-Blum JE, Beaudoin CM, O’Brien LM, et al. Impact of Maine’s statewide nutrition policy on high school food environments. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2011;8(1):A19.

WHO-Marketing framework 2012 - World Health Organization (WHO). A framework for implementing the set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. Geneva, CH: World Health Organization (WHO); 2012.

NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014 - Winterfeld A. State actions to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in schools and communities: Summary and analysis of trends in legislation. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL). 2014.

Rudd-Harris 2014 - Harris JL, Schwartz MB, LoDolce M, et al. Sugary drink FACTS 2014 (Food advertising to children and teens score): Sugary drink marketing to youth: Some progress but much room to improve. Hartford: Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity; 2014.

FTC-Food marketing 2012 - Federal Trade Commission (FTC). A review of food marketing to children and adolescents. 2012.

Powell 2013b - Powell LM, Harris JL, Fox T. Food marketing expenditures aimed at youth putting the numbers in context. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;45(4):453-461.

Date Last Updated

Oct 15, 2015