Ottawa Public Health

What is Marketing to Children and Youth?

| 1 Comment

Marketing has changed. Children and youth are seeing marketing that is more entertaining, more interactive and more powerful than even a decade ago. So what’s changed? How are children and youth being exposed to marketing? Why does this matter for my child’s health?

Marketing, in a nutshell, is communicating a message that advertises or promotes a product or service. When that product is an unhealthy food or beverage, children and youth may be persuaded to make choices that can lead to negative health outcomes.

When we talk about the food and beverage industry, marketing can include:

  • Food and beverage packaging and labelling.
  • The use of mascots or characters popular with children to promote products.
  • Celebrity product endorsements.
  • Where companies place the product and displays sponsoring sports teams and children’s programs.
  • Advertising products on popular websites, in movies, and in video games
  • Contests and free giveaways.
  • Text messaging.
  • School fundraisers.

Did you know?

Children view four to five food and beverage ads per hour. When you consider children watch on average two hours of television a day – the number of food and beverage ads viewed by our children adds up.


How are children and youth vulnerable to marketing?

Children believe what they see.

  • Before the age of five, most children can’t tell the difference between and ad and a television show.
  • Before the age of eight, children are unlikely to know the reasons behind marketing.
  • By the age of ten to twelve, children know that ads sell products, but they are often unable to judge an ad. Of all forms of marketing, youth in particular are vulnerable to digital marketing. It is viewed as entertainment, grabbing their focus and attention.
  • Healthy habits start in childhood. Children learn about nutrition through the marketing of food and beverages. Unhealthy eating over the course of time is linked to multiple diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and stroke.
  • Marketing influences foods that children eat and that they ask their parents to buy. Marketing can influence kids to eat unhealthy foods. It also makes unhealthy foods seem “normal.”

What has been done around marketing unhealthy food and beverages to children and youth in Canada and beyond?

In Canada…

  • The Canadian Federal government has committed to “introducing new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages”.
    * Work has begun on improving food labels, reducing salt and eliminating trans-fats.
  • Senator Nancy Greene Raine presented an Act to prohibit direct food and beverage marketing to children 13 and under. Specific instruction on labelling, packaging and advertising directed at children would also apply. You can see the infographic by clicking this link: 
  • Quebec is the only province to have banned commercial advertisement directed at children under 13. Results show that Quebec is the highest consumer of fruits and vegetables and has the lowest obesity rates for six to eleven year olds since making this change.
  • Experts note that Quebec “has reduced fast food consumption by $88 million a year.”

Around the world…

  • In 1991, Sweden banned ads to children 12 and under and banned mail ads for children younger than 16.
  • In 1992, Norway banned television ads for children under 16 and banned all ads that could be seen to exploit the vulnerabilities of children.
  • In the UK in 2006, ads for products high in fat, sugar and salt found in television shows for children ages four to 15 were banned.
  • In 2011, the Spanish Parliament approved a law on Nutrition and Food Safety, which stated that kindergartens and schools should be free from advertising.
  • In 2014, Brazil determined all ads directed at children under 12 to be “abusive”.
  • In 2014, Mexico restricted television marketing to children and in movie theaters during the afternoon and weekends.

One Comment

  1. Kudos to the government for this commitment. Children’s futures are at stake.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.