Food, Entertainment Companies Must Do More to Improve Food Marketing Aimed at Kids

Statement of CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan


Kudos to First Lady Michelle Obama for bringing much needed attention to the problem of food marketing to children. Food marketing is at the epicenter of the childhood obesity problem. According to the National Academies' Institute of Medicine, marketing affects children's food preferences, food choices, diets, and health.

For the first time, the country is making a bit of progress on the issue of food marketing to kids. Many food companies and Disney and Ion Media/Qubo have adopted policies to reduce unhealthy food marketing to children. Still, as of last year, 70 percent of food ads on Nickelodeon are for unhealthy food. Food and entertainment companies can and should do better to protect children’s health. Companies should:


  • Cover all the communication approaches they use to market food to children. Most food companies' marketing policies cover TV, Web, print, and mobile devices. But they don't cover on-package or in-store marketing and toy giveaways and other premiums at restaurants, and their definitions of marketing in schools are weak. While Disney has a comprehensive marketing policy, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network don't.
  • Market only healthy restaurant meals to children, and not use toys and other premiums to entice kids to want unhealthy meals. Ninety-seven percent of children's meals at the top 50 chain restaurants don't meet expert nutrition standards, and 91 percent don't even meet the National Restaurant Association's own standards.
  • Strengthen nutrition standards for food marketing. It's great that companies agreed to a uniform set of nutrition standards under the industry's self-regulatory program, but under those standards, companies wrongly consider sugary Popsicles, SpaghettiOs, imitation fruit snacks, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, and sugary cereals to be healthy enough to market to kids.
  • Apply their food marketing policies to children 14 and under (rather than 11 and under as most do now) to cover tweens, who also are developmentally vulnerable.
  • All companies that market to kids should address marketing. Companies like Chuck E. Cheese's, J&J Snacks, and Topps Candy are not.
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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]