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You hear a lot these days about how food and beverage companies have our children’s best interests at heart, yet the fast food industry spends two billion dollars a year on creating characters for their advertisements directed at children. The food industry says it cares about children, but their actions usually tell a different story. How are children affected by the endless parade of food marketing?

Fast Food Chains

When you think of fast food, what comes to mind? Burger King, McDonalds, maybe even Wendy’s. They all market towards children because of their buying power and influence of their parent’s purchasing decisions. For example, McDonalds spends 1.4 billion dollars in advertising every year. Their happy meals and play places draw kids in. Then they stay and consume unhealthy food.

Junk Food

Marketers do not only target children through fast food restaurants but also junk food such as hot dogs, chips, french fries and sugary breakfast cereals. Advertisers use tactics such as codes for online games, prizes inside the boxes and the use of athletes. Quaker Oats spent 15 million dollars marketing Captain Crunch in 2012.

Another prime example of marketers advertising directly to children is through the use of popular cartoon characters. Junk food companies also link their product with the newest movies in theaters or newest toys available. Doing so makes the food, even though it’s unhealthy, more appealing to the young and impressionable children.

Negative Effects

Another issue is that the high fat and starch content does not offer enough fiber, thus leaving children unsatisfied and constantly hungry. Without the sense of being full, these kids end up overeating and becoming overweight.

Fast food obesity is the root cause for many major diseases that can develop in children. Because junk food has no nutritional value, children can become anemic. Since they are not getting enough required vitamins in their food, they can also experience cognitive problems, brittle teeth, bones and nails.

Ethical Questions

Most people agree that it is unethical to market junk food to children. Kids cannot understand what they are putting in their bodies and if these unhealthy food patterns continue throughout their life, they are bound to suffer the consequences.

Although junk food is so heavily marketed to children, the FDA has published regulations for marketing food to children. The first part of the proposal is that food marketed to children must contain at least one of the healthy food groups (fruits, veggies, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, etc.) The second part of this proposal indicates that food should minimize intake of nutrients that can have a negative impact, for example, trans fat. These proposed guidelines are a step in the right direction, but marketers can take it into their own hands and be more responsible when marketing food to our youngest, most vulnerable society members!