Essay on Marketing of Unhealthy Foods to Children

Published: 2021/11/16
Number of words: 727

Unhealthy foods are associated with problems such as obesity, overweight, and a high risk of getting non-communicable infections. As a result, there has been growing concern about how unhealthy foods are marketed, especially to children. For instance, federal restrictions on promoting unhealthy foods and beverages have begun in Canada. Vergeer, Vanderlee, Kent, Mulligan, & L’Abbé (2019) argue that voluntary commitments and limitations in the marketing of unhealthy foods to children are ineffective, and propose government restrictions for the same. On the other hand, Binder, Naderer, & Matthes (2020) assert that the portrayal of unhealthy foods during marketing does not affect children’s visual attention, while restrictions on foods such as candy by parents raise children’s arousal to unhealthy foods. Therefore, governments should regulate the marketing of unhealthy food to children, and parents should understand how restricting children from certain foods affects their arousal toward those foods.

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According to Vergeer, Vanderlee, Kent, Mulligan, & L’Abbé (2019), voluntary actions in limiting the promotion of unhealthy foods to children have been unsuccessful. Hence, there is a need for government intervention. Their study aimed at comparing the promotion of unhealthy foods to children between companies with and without voluntary limitations. During the survey, content from food companies’ websites was reviewed, and policies concerning the marketing of unhealthy foods to children were analyzed. The study found that child-directed marketing for unhealthy foods was present even for companies with voluntary commitments, concluding that self-regulation in promoting unhealthy foods to children is unproductive.

According to Binder, Naderer, & Matthes (2020), the portrayal of unhealthy foods in the media does don’t necessarily increase children’s visual attention or their emotional arousal; however, restrictions by their parents could. Children’s reactions to unhealthy foods have not yet been completely understood, necessitating more research. Their study investigated children’s emotional and visual reactions to healthy foods compared to unhealthy foods. Stimuli with healthy and unhealthy foods were introduced, and the children’s eyes observed. The research found no differences in dwell time or pupil behavior for healthy and unhealthy foods, but there was visual and emotional arousal on foods with parental restrictions.

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Studies by Vergeer, Vanderlee, Kent, Mulligan, & L’Abbé (2019) and Binder, Naderer, & Matthes (2020) present different findings on the issue of marketing unhealthy foods to children. The survey by Vergeer, Vanderlee, Kent, Mulligan, & L’Abbé (2019) found that majority of food companies have no published policies on marketing unhealthy foods to children. Also, a majority of companies with these policies still sell products with a fat content above the recommended limit. Therefore, self-regulation on marketing unhealthy foods to children is irrelevant. On the other hand, results from the study by Binder, Naderer, & Matthes (2020) showed that there was no difference in pupil dilation when children were exposed to healthy and unhealthy foods. However, foods with parental restrictions evoked more arousal. The two studies are connected in that when there is no regulation on unhealthy food content by food companies, and parents restrict children from having unhealthy foods, children will want unhealthy foods even more. However, the studies were limited by inadequate information published on online sources and having a small sample size, respectively. Nonetheless, the studies conclude that both government regulation in the marketing of foods to children and parents’ understanding of the impact of their restrictions on specific foods are crucial.

In conclusion, self-regulation in the marketing of unhealthy foods is ineffective. Also, there are no major differences in how children react to healthy and unhealthy foods in the media. Therefore, there is a need for government intervention in regulating the promotion of unhealthy foods in the media as well as a need for careful consideration in parental restrictions on foods. Lastly, further research should be done on how to monitor food marketing in online spaces better and how to trigger children’s responses to healthy foods.


Binder, A., Naderer, B., & Matthes, J. (2020). A “Forbidden Fruit Effect”: An Eye-Tracking Study on Children’s Visual Attention to Food Marketing. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(6), 1859.

Vergeer, L., Vanderlee, L., Potvin Kent, M., Mulligan, C., & L’Abbé, M. R. (2019). The effectiveness of voluntary policies and commitments in restricting unhealthy food marketing to Canadian children on food company websites. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism44(1), 74-82.

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