Bending Kids’ Minds

Just in time to complement this page’s series on the history of dubiously-intentioned, propaganda-styled advertising, journalist Julia Olech has published a highly detailed report on the state of the invidious art today.

It leads with what might be the most dramatic fact about age-related mortality:

Children and teens today are the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents — largely down to serious health concerns linked to the overconsumption of junk food.

One of the many villains here is high fructose corn syrup. Europe is less enamored of the substance, but still a long way from being perfect. A total of 40% of Spanish children are overweight. Europe on average runs about 12.5% while the U.S. hovers around 20%. Everywhere, junk food is “unhealthy, highly processed, and nutritionally poor.”

The manufacturers don’t necessarily want to make all the young’uns fat. They want to make a hefty profit, and if a planet full of fat kids is the consequence, too bad. They are not scheming, conniving misers, but only leaders interested in “shaping the new generation of consumers,” which sounds more benign. The fast-food restaurant empire, for instance, willingly pays $5 billion per annum to attain maximum media-based influence over young minds.

With contests and material rewards, companies actively train (or perhaps “groom” is the word) children to be avid consumers. Knowing how to pitch throughout diverse markets is an art form. For live-streamed media, the timing of messages is crucial, but on-demand media is the advertiser’s dream. Kids of all ages are deluged with ads all day.

Olech explains the dynamic: With contests and material rewards, companies actively train (or perhaps “groom” is the word) children to be avid consumers. She writes,

[P]roduct placements can make a specific brand part of a story, which makes the products seem more attractive and prestigious… [C]hildren feel more inclined to copy whatever their favorite characters are doing…

The author dug up some facts that beggar belief. Check this out:

70% of three-year-olds recognize the McDonald’s symbol, but only half of them know their last name.

Apparently, YouTube is a hotbed of pernicious advertising. Nine out of 10 food ads are for junk. Well, they aren’t ads, exactly, because some effort has been made to curtail the overwhelming influence of advertising. The content now is mainly a weird hybrid of promotion and entertainment. Here is a meaty paragraph about the consequences of subjecting children to sales pitches, however cleverly disguised:

Studies show it very often creates untrue biases in developing minds, which they take with them into adulthood. These perceptions are often very difficult to change, forcing a specific outlook on certain parts of life. The proliferation of gaming ads is also worrying given the research showing the addictive nature of gaming and its impacts.

Then, the picture darkens, as Olech invokes the COVID pandemic, when many children had to stay home and do their learning online. Some food industry giants took advantage of the social dysfunction and placed their advertising on educational platforms for the captive audience of sitting ducks.

Objections were raised, because of the general distraction, and the planting of food images in the children’s minds, which could lead them to thinking about food and then to wanting food and then to eating food and becoming overweight. And privileged families can afford ad-blocking software, while destitute families cannot. The intrusion was stopped for the time being, but ideas this reprehensible always make a comeback.

Many more topics are addressed in Olech’s excellent piece, by the way, and it is recommended.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Junk Food Marketing Study: What Are Kids Being Fed?,”, 02/13/24
Image by Lars Plougmann/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

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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