The Most Cringe-Worthy Fact About Food Marketing

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The average American spends $5 a day on food, with most purchasing processed foods. Less than half of all grocery items are labeled, and food is marketed towards children. Food marketing can change the way we see the world, sometimes influencing eating habits before children even reach kindergarten. The third part of a marketing strategy statement describes the ________ of a new product.

But what’s in it for companies? The answer is clear: advertising and profit. Just last year the industry raked in over $660 billion, with children being targeted by more than two-thirds of those ads studied.

1. Children are frequently the focus of food marketing.

The fear of spiky carrots or red glitter is not an unfounded one: children see over seven times more food advertising than their older counterparts (Center for Science in the Public Interest). Why do companies target children, and how do they do it?

2. Children are particularly vulnerable to marketing.

Children often develop a taste for foods they see advertised, even if they’re not hungry or haven’t yet developed a palate. For instance, a child who saw fruit-flavored mouthwash would be more likely to try it than one who didn’t see the advertisement. This effect continues into adulthood: childhood obesity rates are now double that of adults (Center for Science in the Public Interest).

3. Food marketing can alter the way we see the world.

What’s more, our liking of food is a result of biology based on how much energy it took to produce a food (i.e., sugar=energy). It’s likely that we like foods with sugar because of their energy content and not simply because sugar is tasty. The closer something looks like what humans have already evolved to eat, the more we prefer it.

4. Gender discrimination in food marketing is rampant–and profitable.

Men outnumber women in most televised commercials, and deep voice-overs are typically portrayed as males; women are almost never the main character in ads for cars or sports drinks (Center for Science in the Public Interest).

5. Young children may not know what they eat.

Children as young as five months old can pick up on subtle cues to whether or not a food is healthy, and in particular, whether or not it’s likely to have been made with ingredients their parents would approve of. While the idea of an infant being able to determine the nutritional quality of their food seems especially terrible, these cues are usually developed between six and 26 months (Center for Science in the Public Interest).

6. Food is marketed at all cost–including children’s health.

Food companies are willing to spend absurd sums of money on advertising, knowing that most people don’t change their eating habits until after college. For instance, the makers of a meal replacement beverage named after an animal that lives in the waters around Hawaii spent nearly $1 million on advertising to children under the age of 12 (Center for Science in the Public Interest). These foods contribute to childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

7. Food marketing can be harmful.

Food marketing costs society billions every year in lost wages due to people consuming less healthy food (McAfee). It’s not hard to imagine how our culture could change with this life-threatening consequence removed: over $20 billion loss each year.

8. Food companies try to confuse consumers by making food look like other things.

Food companies know that children are more likely to eat a food if there’s a dinosaur on the package. “The industry knows that most children will reject a food if it has little or no familiar advertising characters on the packaging,” said Dr. Judith Laran, professor and chief of nutrition for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

9. Food companies often ignore public health recommendations when it comes to marketing.

The American Heart Association, American Diabetic Association and American Institute for Cancer Research have all opposed food companies’ use of cartoon characters in packaging and marketing. When the Food and Drug Administration attempted to regulate marketing for junk food in 1973, a lawsuit ruled against them because the government had no place interfering with the free market.

10. Food companies try to confuse consumers about the nutritional content of their foods by putting labels in hard-to-read locations on packaging.

With just 15 percent of packaged foods labeled, it’s more important than ever to examine ingredient lists carefully and know what they’re telling you. Ingredients that may sound innocuous, such as “natural flavors” or “flavorings,” can be detrimental to health

11. Food companies lure customers with superlatives.

Food companies use the term “100% natural” or “organic” to drive sales while they are still making or processing ingredients in a destructive manner. The term “natural” is used to market foods that contain ingredients derived from renewable resources, but it doesn’t prevent them from being processed unnaturally; there is no such thing as an organic apple (Center for Science in the Public Interest).


Food marketers try to fool children into eating foods that are not in their best interests. Children are often the target of unhealthy foods because they’re more impressionable, and marketing is ubiquitous at an early age. Companies target children to intentionally confuse them and make their parents angry, which leads to high profits.

There’s no question that food companies know how to manipulate people’s senses, which is why a high-sugar, low-nutrient product marketed as a “juice” is bound to be more effective than one with less sugar. There’s also no question that children will still try anything, including candy or sugary foods, due to their biological need for energy.


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