Child Nutrition: The effects of Child Consumerism

May 18th, 2015

By Laurel Pascal

One of the main factors that are contributing to childhood obesity in the US is the increase in food advertising to children. In 2002, it was calculated that obesity had reached epidemic levels and data had proved that 1/3 of both middle and lower class children ages 2-5 were already overweight. Processed food is the most advertised category of children’s consumer culture and has become a large reason for child obesity. Processed foods include foods that are sugary, fatty, salty, oily and made very quickly. Additionally, children are watching more television than ever before, which has increased their exposure to these processed food advertisements. Furthermore, food advertising is now popping up on kids Internet sites. Games have been created online that are centrally focused on food products. Marketers are trying to increase the amount of time that kids are exposed to their brand logos to try to sell their product and brand name. For example, Nabisco’s website includes games called the Bull’s eye station, where you try to throw darts at different snack names, and Chip Blaster, where you try to shoot chocolate chips into Chip’s Ahoy cookies. Thus, marketers are taking advantage of children’s increased use of media to get as much exposure as possible to increase sales. However, the result of these commercials has become an increase in the average child’s weight.

One of the major sources of concern in terms of child consumerism and its relation to child obesity is the successful strategies marketers use that target both kids and adults. Advertisers use a technique called the dual marketing approach in which marketers target ads to kids and try to get them hooked on the “high energy fun food” in the commercial (122), while simultaneously incorporating a message to mothers about how the product is “vitamin fortified or oat based” (122). Mothers are tricked into thinking that these seemingly healthy products are okay for their children to consume, when in fact they have enough sugar and fat to make up half a day’s worth of calories. This dual marketing strategy has been hugely successful for products such as cereal, beverages, and snacks. The commercial above for Mini Wheats is the perfect example of the dual marketing approach in action. The Mini Wheats commercial starts off by drawing the kids in through the fun talking Mini Wheat figures, which gets the children excited for the new school year. At the end of the commercial, the advertisers state that Mini Wheats are a great source of fiber and 100% whole grain. By representing a mother as dominant figure in the commercial and portraying that Mini Wheats have a source of nutrition for their kids, mothers are persuaded into buying the product for their child. However, Mini Wheats have just as much sugar and even more calories than all the other sugary cereals like Trix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Frosted Flakes; thus, it is not as good of a choice as mothers think.

Companies have also placed toys in certain meals and cereal boxes as an added bonus to entice children into buying their product and re-emphasizing the idea of “fun food”. However, kids are exposed to many different food advertisements on daily basis. In world of constant innovation, companies are forced to create newer and better food creations in order to impress the consumers. Kids are not as easily impressed as they used to be. One worry is that through this increased drive for innovation, companies will only create even more sugary and unhealthy food inventions. This drive for newness to keep the child consumer interested could only reinforce the trend of increasingly unhealthy food offered to children.

Conclusively, studies prove that children who watch television more have much poorer nutrition habits. Parents have also confirmed that TV ads are the most prominent influence on their children in terms of the types and brands of foods they ask for. Thus, as children are exposed to media at younger and younger ages and companies feel the need to create more unhealthy products to keep the child population pleased, we will continue to have this issue with child nutrition due to the recent trends in consumer culture.


SOURCE: Schor, Juliet. Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer. New York: Scribner, 2004.

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