Marketing on our Plates: Food for thought
Advertising is everywhere, it is invading our lives without us even realizing it. From a marketing standpoint, young people are a target of choice and the food industry knows it full well. Yet, there is a law1 in Québec prohibiting commercial advertising aimed at persons younger than 13. However, such regulation focuses mainly on traditional forms of advertising and does not include new media used by businesses. Thus, product placement, packaging and the use of TV characters that children recognize are practices not yet well regulated which promote unhealthy food to children... and older children.
These strategies are very convincing forms of advertising aimed at children. Until the age of 8, they are vulnerable to marketing content as they are not yet able to recognize the persuasive intention of advertising. The appeal of packaged food is such that 67% of children who shop with their parents ask for very specific products. Since 74% of packaged foods contain sugar, it is alarming to see how our children are exposed to the latter.
Health in figures
In Québec, for the period from 2009 to 20132, the prevalence of overweight children aged between 6 and 17 was 25%, or one child out of four.
The World Health Organization3 and the Heart and Stroke Foundation4 recommend not to consume more than 10% of one’s total energy intake in the form of added sugars (50 g of sugar for a daily intake of 2,000 kcal) and even aim for less than 5%. The American Heart Association5 recommends a daily maximum lower than 24 g for women and children and lower than 38 g for men.
In 20046, the average Canadian consumed 110 g of sugar per day (added and naturally present in food). Young people under the age of 19 consumed systematically more sugar than this average with intakes up to 172 g per day for boys between 14 and 18. From this sugar intake, only 20% came from fruits and vegetables while almost 46% of the sugar consumed came from the “Other” food group.
Excessive sugar consumption is associated with various health problems such heart diseases, obesity and diabetes – currently the leading cause of death in developed countries.
Many types of food intended for children feature an alleged “healthy” profile by praising the nutritional benefits of their products. Nevertheless, several of these products also contain a large amount of sugar. This can be misleading when one only looks at the packaging and how healthy some products appear to be. For instance:
2 Bear Paws cookies contain 13 g of sugar (3 tsp. of sugar);
1 200 ml Yop drinkable yogurt contains 22 g of sugar (5 tsp. of sugar);
250 ml of 100% pure orange juice contain 24 g of sugar (5 ½ tsp. of sugar);
250 ml of chocolate milk contain 29 g of sugar (7 tsp. of sugar);
The same applies for many other types of food such as cereals, granola bars, cookies and other desserts for children.
Today, food marketing greatly contributes to the creation of an obesogenic environment that makes healthy choices more difficult, especially for children. Poor nutrition from a very young age, combined with other risk factors such as physical inactivity, contributes to the development of overweight children and teenagers. Furthermore, it predisposes them to an increased risk of serious health problems as adults, not to mention immediate health complications that can ensue such as hypertension and insulin resistance.
In a report published in 20107, the World Health Organization warned about the impact of marketing foods rich in added sugars, processed fats and salt to children and advocated the need for global action in order to reduce related impacts.
As a result, when marketing literally fills our plates and only thinks about profits, how far should regulations go? Should we go as far as what has been done for cigarettes and prescription drugs?