The Washing of the Brains

A brand-new study, published only last month, reveals the folk whose profession is to influence children to nag their parents until the grownups give up and buy Product B instead of Product A. We don’t want those to be our children; or ourselves to be those parents. And yet, entire battalions of silver-tongued orators are at work “shaping a whole generation’s unhealthy eating habits.” We’re talking about (alleged) food with high taste and low nutrition; with high convenience, and (usually) low cost.

The stuff is everywhere. Julia Olech writes,

Studies show children see about 13 food ads every day, while teens see 16. Only 1 out of 10 of these ads are for healthy foods like fruit and vegetables — the rest are all for junk food. These can come in the form of short ad segments slotted into breaks in favorite shows, but also as product placement marketing in movies, TV shows, music videos, and other forms of entertainment.

It has been shown that teens, after hearing pitches delivered by “influencers,” will actually eat 26% more junk food. On social media, a child or a teen might easily encounter more than a hundred junk food promotions in a single week. Multiplied by the number of weeks, that comes out to well over 5,000 doses of brainwashing per year.

Children and teens might be variously described as vulnerable, innocent, dumb, or, as the author says, not having “the cognitive skills needed to understand the intent of junk food adverts.” No matter how you slice it, the baloney is hip-deep and rising. The author gives many examples, and when it comes to YouTube? Don’t get her started!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 90% of food promotions on YouTube are for types of junk food. Just a quick search on the platform reveals hundreds of videos of kids unboxing new Happy Meal toys, reviewing new Hershey’s chocolates, and receiving PR packages from big junk food brands.

And, no surprise here, adults are also vulnerable to having their lives negatively impacted by this advertising. After all, we were once children, and in most of our lives, no influence has arisen to counteract all the harmful propaganda injected into our heads in the name of entertainment. Olech writes,

According to Cancer Research UK, watching any food content makes children (and adults alike) feel hungry, pushing them to snack between mealtimes. It usually also impacts their food preferences, as marketing teams spend a lot of time and money making their products look delicious on screen.

To make sure the point gets made, Olech lists all the many and varied ill effects to which the marketing of junk food to kids can indirectly lead, including but not limited to:

[…] kidney diseases, Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, malnutirtion, obesity, low self-esteem, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, bone issues, low immunity, concentration problems, depression and mood swings, eating disorders, poor brain development, tooth decay…

Of course, the beguiling shills and the corporations that pay them never set out with the intention of making every kid on the planet obese. They are just trying to raise a new generation of consumers, that’s all.

Just a short little digressive item to think about

One of the things that advertising sells is the credo that sports and junk food must go together, whether in person or while viewing electronically. Olech writes,

Another issue with junk food marketing in the US is the misinformation present in a lot of ads. Many companies use celebrity or athlete endorsements, perpetuating the idea that their products are healthier than they are. They also normalize consuming higher amounts of junk food while watching sports or TV, further contributing to the growing obesity pandemic.

Currently, a sports book website called FanDuel builds its commercials around the slogan, “Every night is a watch party!” which tidily encompasses seven evenings of three distinct potential addiction opportunities. You got the booze, you got the junk food, and you got the gambling. How did this racket slip past the War on Drugs?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Junk Food Marketing Study: What Are Kids Being Fed?,”, 02/13/24
Image by Francisco Orsorio/CC BY 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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