Obesity Childhood Junk Food Marketing

Junk food advertising is everywhere, and it may be encouraging the rise of childhood obesity in America. Fast food advertising is often aimed squarely at children: The food industry spends $10 billion annually marketing to children, according to Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity? (2006).

The focus on marketing to children creates a conflict between the fast food industry, which encourages the eating of junk food, and parents, who want to guide their children towards healthier eating habits. Many parents would say it’s an uneven struggle, with the balance of power squarely on the side of junk food advertising.

Fast Food Advertising Strategies

Fast food advertising and junk food advertising have a host of techniques at their disposal. Marketing venues include television, radio, comic books and magazines. Fast food company logos appear on toys, in movies, on clothing and in video games. It’s difficult — perhaps impossible — to go an entire day in American society without seeing a fast food logo, restaurant, advertisement or image of someone eating junk food.

Junk Food Marketing to Children - Junk Food and Obesity

Fast food marketing to children uses the same techniques any savvy marketing campaign uses when selling something to children: The advertising makes eating junk food look as appealing and cool as possible. Marketing strategies include the use of multiple strategies, including:

  • Cartoon characters (a common breakfast cereal marketing choice)
  • Celebrity endorsements
  • Free toys and collectibles
  • Games and contests
  • Licensed characters
  • Kids’ clubs
  • Popular music
  • Spokes-characters
  • Ties to popular movies
  • Websites.

Regardless of which tactic is used, the message is clear. Eating junk food is portrayed as pleasurable, fun and cool. A parent trying to promote healthy eating is at a distinct disadvantage: What chance does a parent with a plate of fruit have against a brightly colored character whose zany antics always culminate with eating junk food?

Changes to Junk Food Advertising

Despite the uneven fight between parents and fast food advertisers, there are signs that fast food advertising will have to change. Increasing demands from parents and child health advocacy groups are making headway in changing how junk food is marketed. Several fast food companies have pledged to limit marketing to children, and some are offering healthier meal options on their menus.

Cynics might point out that the fast food industry can afford to limit formal marketing to children due to the widespread reminders of junk food in modern society. It’s also debatable that children used to eating junk food will enter a fast food restaurant and order apple slices in place of French fries.

Some groups suggest that fast food marketing to children should be restricted as strictly as alcohol or tobacco marketing, a move opposed by the food industry. At present, junk food advertising is a fact of life in America, and one that taxes the patience of parents concerned with childhood obesity.


Center for Science in the Public Interest. (n.d.). Food marketing to children. Retrieved April 18, 2010, from http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/food_marketing_to_children.pdf.

MacMillan, D. (2009). Alcohol, then tobacco. Now fast food? Retrieved April 18, 2010, from http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/jun2009/db20090630_606062.htm.

McGinnis, J. M., Gootman, J. A.