Food Marketing to Youth: Editor's Introduction

By Schwartz, Marlene B.; Uribe, Rodrigo et al. | Communication Research Trends, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Food Marketing to Youth: Editor's Introduction


Schwartz, Marlene B., Uribe, Rodrigo, Gonzalez, Almudena, Communication Research Trends


The impact of communication media, particularly mass communication media, on children and youth has provided an important pillar of research in communication for close to a century. The Payne Fund studies in the 1920s and 1930s examined how motion pictures influenced youth and affected their behaviors. Similar studies examined radio, television, popular music, and so on. In fact, one could more or less trace the history of media effects research through the concerns of how various communication media--especially the various new media of the 20th century--affected children.

A rough consensus holds that children respond to media messages but not always in the ways that adults do. Younger children do not necessarily distinguish between programs and commercials, for example. It should come as no surprise, then, that advocates for children as well as the scholars studying media and youth have long argued children respond to advertising perhaps too well. Much of child focused advertising tends to promote toys and food. And so, more recently, researchers have pointed out an unintended consequence of marketing foods to children: the increased incidence of obesity. In the lead artical of this issue of COMMUNICATION RESEARCH TRENDS, Marlene Schwartz, Dale Kunkel, and Sarah DeLucia remind us "that the more time children spend watching television, the more likely they are to be overweight. However, recent research shows that the causal link is not driven by lower physical activity; but rather is likely a result of exposure to more food marketing messages."

Since much of that marketing promotes less healthy foods--foods heavy in sugar, fats, salt, and calories--children consume more of these foods, preferring them to healthy alternatives. And, in a far-reaching health threat, they form life-long habits of poor nutrition. Because children do not act as rational consumers, more and more child advocates argue for some kind of regulation of food marketing to children as a way to protect them from the unintended consequences of this advertising.

Schwartz, Kunkel, and DeLucia focus their review primarily on the sitution of food marketing to children in the United States. However, the problem extends well beyond the borders of the U.S. To better illustrate that such marketing has similar consequences worldwide, as we have done in the past, this issue of Trends presents a dialogue among researchers in different parts of the world. …

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