Is Marketing a Culprit in the Childhood Obesity Epidemic?

As an MBA student currently taking a marketing class, and a mom of an almost seven-year-old (who has a serious sweet tooth despite being fed kale and avocado since she was a baby), I was eager to read an article I came across titled “Food and beverage industry marketing kids to ‘death’”. I found the article from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, published on The article highlights some concerning research; kids between the ages of 2 and 11 collectively see 25 million food and beverage advertisements a year on their favorite websites, 90% of which are for unhealthy foods. The most frequently advertised products are Pop Tarts, Frosted Flakes, McDonald’s Happy Meals, Red Bull, and Lunchables.  (“Food And Beverage Industry Marketing Kids To ‘Death'”).


I know first-hand how challenging it can be to keep unhealthy foods away from your child. Between grandparents who get a thrill out of giving their grandchildren sugar, to the way reward systems in schools have been set up to give students candy or sweets for good behavior or doing well on a test. But now, in the age of digital marketing, there is an even more prevalent way that kids are being influenced to make unhealthy food choices. And no matter how much the research and data shows that there are serious and even potentially deadly effects of poor nutrition, I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard someone tell me “she is a kid let her have the [candy/cookie/cake/pepperoni/etc.]”. Sadly, that is the culture we live in, and this article highlights the role that marketing is playing in this, by influencing the unhealthy eating habits of children, which in turn is contributing to childhood obesity.


The article also proposes legislation (in Canada) that would regulate advertisements to children as a solution to this problem. While I would completely support this initiative, the idea made me curious about the responsible marketing practices of large companies in the food and beverage industry. Surprisingly, The Coca Cola company has a commitment to not marketing any products to children under 12, by avoiding any media that directly targets children under age 12 (“Responsible Marketing”.).  Nestle does not market any products to children under 6 years old, and does not “direct any marketing communication for biscuits, sugar confectionery and chocolate confectionery products to children below 12 years of age” (“Marketing Communication Policy to Children”). While these are two large companies trying to market responsibly to children, the number of companies I could find with this same commitment were far fewer than those I could find who were clearly using children’s likes and interests to sell their unhealthy products.

All of this raises a bigger question about the role of responsibility, ethics, and laws and regulations in marketing.  While a product’s strong link to health-related issues may be a justified reason to regulate marketing, especially to children, where should the line be drawn?  How do laws and regulations play into marketing currently, and how should they? What is responsible marketing and what are the effects within organizations that focus on responsible marketing campaigns? While I do not have answers to these questions, I think they are important issues for us to think about and discuss as MBA students, especially given the influence that marketing has on our society and specifically our youth.

“Food and Beverage Industry Marketing Kids To ‘Death'”. ScienceDaily. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 Feb. 2017.
“Marketing Communication Policy to Children”. Nestle. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 Feb. 2017.
“Responsible Marketing”. Coca Cola Company. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 Feb. 2017.




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