Selling Crap to Kids, Part 3

We are still wallowing in a topic so controversial, it has been newsworthy for decades. A little over 10 years ago, Susan Linn and Michele Simon wrote:

Marketing to children does not get First Amendment protection because it is inherently misleading. If a young child cannot even understand the purpose of an ad, then marketing anything to that child is both unfair and deceptive.

At around the same time Simon, a public health attorney and advocate for plant-based foods, framed one of the moral issues. In protecting children’s health, is encouraging the food industry to market healthful food to kids important, necessary, or even ethical? She wrote,

[I]f the only issue was marketing fruit and vegetables to kids and if the only people engaging in such tactics were parents, I would be far less concerned. But let’s not confuse well-meaning adults trying to get kids to eat right with profit-driven multi-national corporations targeting children to hook them on a lifetime of consumerism.

In the same year, the journal Health Education published the results of a study of child-oriented food advertising. The uncredited piece about it from said that “Health-related messages in food advertisements targeting children” was the first document to scrutinize not just the health messages conveyed by ads, but the actual content and virtue of the foods they referred to and promoted. Here is the problem, or one of them anyway:

[I]t may actually be the advertising techniques… that are being changed in response to concerns… It found that health messages which appear in foods marketed at children do not necessarily indicate their nutritional value. Conversely, these health-related messages were frequently found to be used to promote unhealthy foods to children, and were mostly likely to appear in commercials for fast foods, sugared cereals and salty snacks.

In other words, instead of doing the right thing, the industry engaged in some fancy bait-and-switch machinations, no more honest than a traditionally rigged carnival ring-toss game. The new method is, in fact, even worse, because it takes advantage of the trusting nature of children and their often deep, if sometimes well-camouflaged, desire to do the right thing.

Children, like adults, perceive products more positively when they are presented with a health message, and exposure to food advertising is linked, not only to their dietary preferences and food selections, but to their understanding and beliefs about nutrition.

Is that devious, or what?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Dark Side of Marketing Healthy Food to Children,”, 06/17/13
Source: “Is a Nutritionism Approach to Marketing to Children the Best We Can Do?,”, 06/26/13
Source: “Can childhood obesity be linked to clever marketing tactics?,”, 10/01/13
Image: Domain

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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