Food and beverage companies spend nearly $2 billion dollars each year marketing food to kids and the vast majority of these foods are unhealthy. Food marketing to kids raises a number of concerns:

  • Food advertising affects children's food choices, food purchase requests, what foods children are willing to eat, diet, and health in the short-term and into adulthood.
  • Parental authority is undermined by wide discrepancies between what parents tell tell their child is healthy to eat and what marketing promotes as desirable to eat.
  • Young children are unable to detect the persuasive intent of advertisements. Older children are increasingly exposed to less obvious forms of marketing that are disguised as entertainment. Put simply, youth may not recognize they are being advertised to.
  • Food marketing to children is increasing. In 2018, food and beverage ads accounted for 23 percent of all ads aired during children's television programming, a significant increase from 15 percent in 2012.

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How Companies Market to Children

Food marketing is ubiquitous and happens in places you would expect and places you would not expect. Companies market food to children through a variety of means:

  • Apps/mobile devices
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Internet
  • Magazines
  • Product placement
  • Schools
  • Product packages
  • Toys
  • Clothing
  • And more...

In other words, companies will market food to kids almost anywhere a logo or product image can be shown.

Food companies use a number of tactics to get children interested in their products, which include:

  • Spokes-characters
  • Celebrities
  • Cartoons
  • Toy giveaways and other premiums
  • Collectibles
  • Games
  • Contests
  • Kids' Clubs
  • And more...

Food marketing to children is largely unregulated in the United States. Various companies have signed on to industry-led pledges to limit advertising of unhealthy products to children. However, not every company has signed on to these voluntary pledges and the commitments have major loopholes which result in these programs falling short of fully protecting children from food marketing.

While industry could improve their commitments to better protect children, the US government should take action to limit food marketing to kids.

Letter of Intent to Sue Viacom re: Junk Food Marketing to Kids

Learn more about digital food marketing to kids

The growth of online platforms and digital devices has led many food and beverage companies to invest increasingly in online advertisements. Innovative digital ad techniques, such as influencer marketing, on social media platforms are unlike traditional forms of advertisements on television and can be particularly hard for children to identify and understand. Many food and beverage advertisements online depict unhealthy food, and these ads can increase children's requests for and selection of unhealthy foods. Policymakers and advocates should work together to promote regulations that protect children from targeted food and beverage marketing.

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Boy on bed with headphones on and viewing iPad

Learn more about food marketing to kids

Food companies market their products to children in a variety of ways. Whether kids see food advertisements on television, in schools, or online, food marketing can impact their food preferences, choices, intake, and purchase requests. Unfortunately, much of the food marketing children are exposed to is for unhealthy food, like sugary drinks and fast food. The U.S. government must act in order to protect children of all ages from unhealthy food and beverage marketing.

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Key food marketing issues

Featured campaign: Ads on online learning platforms

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning platforms were increasingly visited and used by school children. In the summer of 2020, CSPI and others identified a number of ads for nutritionally poor foods on, an online learning platform used by children in kindergarten through sixth grade.