The Impact of Food Advertising on Childhood Obesity

The Impact of Food Advertising on Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity is a serious problem and on the rise.

As of 2019, over 50 million children under the age of 5 were overweight. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled childhood obesity as “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century”,1 as the crisis continues to expand. Trends towards more sedentary behavior in children, combined with the increased accessibility of affordable unhealthy food are pushing many children towards unhealthy lifestyles at a very young age.

Recent research has indicated that there is a clear link between the food and drink advertisements that children are exposed to and their food choices, cravings and eating patterns.   The worldwide increase in children’s ‘screen time’ has been accompanied by greater exposure to a tremendous amount of food and drink marketing.  Children are especially vulnerable due to the tactful marketing strategies designed to persuade them.  Children often can’t see through these marketing schemes, making them prime targets of companies who use emotional brand associations to encourage children to crave unhealthy food.  In fact, ads for junk food can increase the amount of unhealthy food choices kids make within as little as 30 minutes after exposure to the advertisement.

In addition to the physical health risks, overweight children are also more likely to suffer from behavioral and emotional difficulties, including low self-esteem, depression and poor social skills.   The food industry often does not take the blame and instead push it back on the parents for their irresponsibility in failing to control their children’s diet. Though parents do hold responsibility for their children’s dietary habits, the technology boom and increased screen time for children make it difficult for even the most parents to protect their children from being exposed to harmful food advertising. Unfortunately, as marketing companies continue to label unhealthy food as ‘fun’, ‘cool’ and ‘great-tasting’, parents continue to face an uphill battle trying to convince their children otherwise.

There are ways parents can minimize the effect these ads have on their kids. 

  • Try reducing their screen time
  • Discuss the messages in the advertisements
  • Eat healthy dinners together
  • Encourage your kids to get more activity in.

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