Food Marketing and Children’s Health
The childhood obesity epidemic has created much interest in food marketing to children. With 26 per cent of children being overweight or obese, Canada has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the developed world.
This problem has pulled the food industry and its marketing practices into the spotlight. Food marketing is critiqued for establishing an “obesogenic” or “toxic environment”—one where food is symbolically overvalued and always available. Yet the question of food marketing embraces more than obesity. It equally speaks to issues of health, policy and consumer perceptions toward food and eating.
Dr. Charlene Elliott, Canada Research Chair in Food Marketing, Policy and Children's Health, is exploring the issue of “food communication”—food marketing, packaging and policy—in the context of children’s health. She is probing the types of foods that are being targeted specifically to children, and examining their nutritional quality and marketing.
It is often observed that food is marketed to children using child-friendly appeals and that exposure to food advertising influences children’s food choices and preferences. But Elliott is also asking what it means—in terms of dietary habits and health—to promote food using particular types of appeals. Her research not only deals with child-oriented food products and promotions, but also with the implications of marketing food in a particular way (for example, under the banner of “fun” or “entertainment”). These types of marketing appeals can have important implications for how children evaluate food as desirable or undesirable, and classify it in terms of health.