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    The Dark Side of Food Marketing

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    Background Information

    Food marketing is one of the biggest businesses in the United States and worldwide. Food marketing includes radio, internet, and tv. Specifically, food advertisement geared towards children in the United States promotes high calorie, high sugar, and high fat foods.

    Children ages 2-7 years of age watch an average of 2 hours of television a day; therefore, see at least one food commercial every five minutes; thus, 24 to 42 food commercials per day. With a great amount of energy and resources going towards marketing food, it has been concluded by researchers and advocates that there is a link between food advertising and an increased rate of overweight and obesity in children.

    There are specific food advertisement policies that state that ads should encourage effective use of a food product in order to help a child develop and practice healthy food nutritional standards; yet, these policies are not carried through. The author of this case study acknowledges that there is a lack of enforcement of food advertisement policy in the United States and frames this as the cases central issue.

    Food advertisement policy in the United States outlines a company’s duty to advertise products that will help a child develop healthy food practices such as choosing the correct foods and exercising regularly; however, this is not being carried through.

    Food advertisements are protected by First Amendment rights and the FTC failed to regulate food advertisements when defining targeted foods and differentiating between television programs directed specifically towards children and those more broadly directed to the public came to a halt. Society has come to not only judge policy but raise concern over a parent’s role in helping children develop such healthy food practices at home when tv is not doing its job.

    Current Situation

    The author of this case study focuses on governmental necessity to enforce its food adverting polices in the United States. Those involved in this situation and solving the problem is government and food advertisers.

    Currently, food advertising in the United States is grouped into two categories: government regulation and self- regulation. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are federal organizations primarily responsible for regulating advertisement in the United Sates.

    The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) is responsible for self-regulating the advertising for children in the food industry. The goal of both sectors is to help regulate or eliminate commercials that promote unhealthy food products or food practices in children. However, government effort does little when food advertisers do not do their part.

    Food advertisers must come to understand that advertising to children is of concern due to the fact that young children are just starting to formulate their own opinion regarding food and eating. Research has shown that children of ages 10 and younger are not able to tell the difference between advertising and program content. A children’s immature social and cognitive skills interpret food advertisements as “program content” that is acceptable for them ask for to their parents when in a supermarket.

    Currently, a sector that is doing their part is in- school marketing. In- school marketing is a state and local issue. A great amount of states across the United States is enacting a ban to limit junk food sales in school such as the food in vending machines and student stores. Local schools and districts have passed legislations similar to it.

    Prioritize Issues

    The root causes of this problem are

    1. children as a special case,
    2. protection of free speech,
    3. nutritional standards,
    4. defining advertising to children,
    5. parental responsibility.

    Advocates and industry representatives agree that children are a special case that require special protection. Both agree that advertisements with the intent to harm or lie to children should be banned.

    Advocates even say that all food advertisings should be banned during any child’s program. However, industry representatives have pointed out that banning what kinds of foods can be advertised does to a certain extent violate first amendment rights. The right to free speech should be protected but the extent to what is appropriate for our growth as a country is a debate.

    Although what kinds of foods can be advertised does run into free speech challenges, advocates have suggested the food industry to develop nutritional standards of what foods should be allowed to be advertised to children. Yet, having all companies agree on nutritional standards may be difficult. Many programs have a wide range of audience and the task to define children’s programing is difficult.

    Thus, it would be problematic to define the age range which ads should be banned if not even programs have an age range. Finally, society has to understand that it is not government responsibility to teach healthy food practices but also parental responsibility. Parents have the responsibility to teach their children good nutritional habits. The core problems in this issue is the lack of governmental enforcement.

    Analyze Alternatives

    In 1978, the FTC proposed a rule that would ban all television advertisements to children. The FTC presented a comprehensive review of scientific literature of why advertisements to children was wrong; however, it was met with opposition from food, toy, broadcasting, and advertising industries. A key argument in the debate was the First Amendment right protection. Congress refused the FTC’s proposal and passed legislation that removed the agency’s authority in restricting television advertising.

    This proposal was deemed unsuccessful due to the fact that one agency was trying to eliminate a whole advertising industry. Companies must make money, and no one will stop them from making a profit. A theoretical perspective that can applied to this solution is a compromise between the government and advertising industry. Each must take and give from the solution, not both will be happy, but they will both have a say in the decisions. An alternative solution presented in the literature is an incentives program.

    Advocates have suggested a compromise that will gear all energy and resources towards prompting food that is low in calories, fat, and sugar. Incentive programs will encourage promoting healthier foods along with the standard unhealthy foods. For every minute that a high calorie unhealthy food is promoted a healthy food can be promoted alongside it. This will create a partnership between the healthy and unhealthy industries giving children the option to see both sides of the food spectrum.

    Provide Recommendations

    A practical recommendation based on scientific literature is promoting knowledge amongst parents. An important influence in a children’s food choices is their parents. Parents have the capacity to promote healthier food and regular exercise in their household. A child may see the unhealthy food on the tv, but it is the parent’s decision to buy the product or not. Parents must become knowledgeable about what food contains and the types of nutrients their children need to develop effectively.

    Educational and social marketing programs must be strengthened in order to teach parents the correct nutritional standards and the way to say “no” in regard to unhealthy food for their children. Parents must instill long term healthy practices. This recommendation addresses the problem by giving an alternative solution of not needing to fix advertising companies but fixing the household the child lives in. The child’s leaning starts at home, so parents must take responsibility and not place the responsibility on the government to help them teach their children.

    Establish Action Plan

    Specific activities that need to be carried out for my recommendation include developing educational programs in communities and social marketing programs in order to teach healthy food practices to parents. In the program’s parents will be taught the food pyramid, nutritional standards, and the correct ways to exercise. These will need to be adjusted to fit a child’s needs. The groups that will be responsible for implementation is communities and parents.

    Communities in setting up the programs and parents to attend the programs and put the teachings into practice. If starting today, programs will need about a two-month planning time to set up lessons and goals for the attendees. So, the program should be in full affect starting in late January. The program should be at least one month with classes every Tuesday and Thursday in the evening. Evening time to allow parents to get out of work and attend the program.


    In my opinion this is a very difficult case to solve. Looking at it from an economic stand point the adverting companies much show all advertisements possible to stay afloat as a marketable company in a money driven country such as the United States. However, we do not want our children to suffer nutritionally due to our need to make the United States a powerful country. We all must take a step back and find a compromise between health and money. In the end if there are no inhabitants there is not country.

    I can compare this case to the nations of Norway and Sweden. These two countries were having the same problem of finding a balance between healthy and the economy. However, they made the decision to protect their children and completely ban all advertisements to children during children’s programming. I hope one day the United Sates can one day take this step; however, small changes will be progress.

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