On the Table

Parents unhappy with food ads

November 13, 2012 

Michelle Obama Disney Nutrition Push

Disney's packed sliced sweet apples is held with other Disney food products, at the Newseum in Washington, Tuesday, June 5, 2012, during a news conference where first lady Michelle Obama and Walt Disney Company announced that Disney will become the first major media company to introduce new standards for food advertising on programming targeting kids and families.


We may be a nation divided over presidential politics, but when it comes to kids’ diets, differences disappear. Parents favor food policies that protect children.

A new report by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity focused on parents’ attitudes about policies promoting healthy diets for kids ages 2-17. Among the more than 2,000 parents surveyed each year from 2009 to 2011, the majority said they were as concerned about their kids’ exposures to food and beverage advertising as they were about the ads their kids see for tobacco and alcohol.

Most food marketing messages that kids see promote foods and beverages that are high in calories and low in nutrition. Most TV ads, for example, are for foods that are high in sugar, saturated fat and/or sodium. The most common subjects: Fast food and other restaurants, sugary cereals and candy.

Ads disguised as games and on product labels are nearly always for junk foods.

Regardless of party affiliation, the Rudd study found that most parents supported most of the policy interventions proposed. Those included setting nutrition standards for foods sold in schools and promoting healthy diets in children’s media.

Most parents favored forcing food companies to give as much ad time to healthy choices as they do to unhealthy choices. They also supported restrictions on food marketing that targets children under 12, including ads on school buses, food company sponsorships in schools, TV commercials, Internet advertising on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and mobile messaging, including smartphone apps and text messaging.

Similar restrictions have been in place for many years in other countries, including Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Parents acknowledged the power of the nag factor, and they weren’t satisfied with voluntary efforts on the part of the food industry to self-regulate when it comes to junk food advertising targeting children.

Knowing that there’s this much support for change should embolden all of us to push harder. We can do much better to create a food environment that makes it easier to choose health.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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