Advertisements sell. Companies wouldn’t be spending so much money on them had they not delivered. To parents’ dismay – and to public health advocates’ alarm – most of the ads and marketing efforts targeted at our kids and teens promote fast and junk foods.
According to a report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity the fast-food industry spent $4.6 billion on ads in 2012, mostly for their unhealthiest products, and most of it targeted to kids and teens. Kids are encouraged to snack by a plethora of ads: According to another report from the Rudd Center preschoolers (2-5 years) see 1.6 ads each day, that number only increasing as kids grow older, and kids' exposure has increased by double digits from 2010 to 2014. Again, most of the ads are for sweet or savory highly processed snacks, but on a positive note, ads for nuts and fruit doubled from 2010 to 2014 -- but still made just 6 percent of what kids saw.
School food in undergoing a significant transformation and better options and more fruits and veggies are being served in cafeterias, with the hope that serve-a-healthier-meal-and-they-will-come. Which I actually believe will happen, eventually.
But what if healthy food could get a little help -- of the kind that unhealthy food gets by the bucket load?
Market, don’t nudge
This is the premise of a new study just published in Pediatrics. The researchers, led by Andrew Hanks, randomized 10 elementary schools to 3 types of veggie marketing exposures: A banner ad with veggie cartoon characters wrapped around the base of the salad bar, a short TV ad with those veggie characters, or both of the above experiences.
The salad bars were a hit during the 6-week field experiment, with an overall increase of 135 percent in veggie selection. Looking more carefully at the 3 types of interventions, the kids exposed to just the salad-bar banner increased their veggie selection by 90 percent, while those exposed to both a TV ad and the banner increased it by 240 percent!
Which really proves what marketing experts already know: Exposure across several types of media increases its effectiveness, and branded characters make food more attractive to young kids.
Unless we can make junk-food marketing to kids disappear altogether – good luck with that – we should try to somewhat level the playing field by giving veggies a bit of a marketing boost.