Like a Horse and Carriage

The methodology involved in persuading children to pester their parents for certain brands of cereal and other food products has been described as aggressive, pervasive, ubiquitous, tiresome, underhanded, and plenty of other adjectives. Julia Olech, whose work we have quoted before, is the author who confronts the American public with such concepts as, “70% of three-year-olds recognize the McDonald’s symbol, but only half of them know their last name.”

Before that can even sink in, the author piles on additional interesting facts. Based on them, she makes several cogent, related points that suggest a certain line of deduction, loosely summarized here:

  • Children who are not thinking about food are less likely to eat.
  • Children who are consciously thinking about food are more likely to eat.
  • The probability is high that they will choose food unwisely.
  • Children who eat unwisely are more likely to become obese.
  • If we want children not to be obese, we should aim to have them eat less.
  • In the media that children consume and interact with the overwhelming majority of ads sell junk food.
  • And in the unlikely event that a particular ad is for a healthful food, advertising co-opts the person’s attention, and sets their mind on food, increasing the likelihood that they will eat unwisely and become obese.

Startling discrepancies

If we had a nickel for every nugget of misinformation presented in a food ad, they would reach from here to the moon. Though not technically a food, Coke has been notorious for telling fibs. The soft drink empire has set a record to which others can only hope to aspire, as explored in at least four Childhood Obesity News posts.

Dangerous liaisons

Advertising, especially when performed by popular athletes and entertainment figures, reinforces the idea that some things go together like “love and marriage, horse and carriage.” Americans have always known that part of a movie night is eating a bunch of junk food. If you are watching a spectator sport, you are expected to be feeding your face. Whether in the stadium or the living room, particular kinds of nutritionally deficient foods are just part of the deal.

It is in the best interest of Big Junk Food to normalize the consumption of crap on every possible occasion. The industry’s publicity machine is excellent at this, Olech notes, to the point where “many US junk food ads have been banned in countries like New Zealand, the UK, or Australia.” She goes on to say,

This continuous exposure to junk food ads is shaping children’s norms and expectations about what foods are acceptable to eat regularly.

Like, doughnuts for every breakfast, fries for every lunch — why not? All the manufacturer needs to do is find one recognizable celebrity, and voilà! Everybody gets a bonus!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

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

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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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