Parents support policies that would limit the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, according to a new study released this week by our friends at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
Unveiled during the American Public Health Association annual meeting, the study finds that parents are as concerned about how food marketing effects their children’s eating habits similar as they are about the use of alcohol and tobacco in the media. The study is the first of its kind to look at parental attitudes about food marketing, according to the Yale Rudd Center.
“The food industry has responded to parents’ concerns about food marketing with self-regulatory pledges that have produced only small changes," said Jennifer Harris, lead author and the Yale Rudd Center’s director of marketing initiatives. “Parents are becoming more aware of food marketing and they want to start seeing real improvements.”
Researchers conducted an online-based survey of 2,454 parents who had children ages 2-17 living at home in June and July of 2009, 2010 and 2011. They found that parents strongly support a number of policy initiatives to improve kids’ eating habits, including improving the school food environment, reducing the advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages on television and restricting other types of advertising, such as cartoon characters on toys and in social media.
For example, 60 percent of parents surveyed said they support or strongly support policies that would allow only healthy food advertisements to be aired during television programs targeted at children under 18 – and 57 percent say they’d support or strongly support banning advertisements of any kind for programs aimed at children under 8. Fifty-nine percent of parents would support or strongly support requiring that kids’ meals must be healthy in order to include a toy.
Researchers argue that the data show that the food and beverage industry is not doing enough to self-regulate what products it advertises to children. While a coalition of big-name companies has agreed to follow nutritional guidelines when marketing to kids, food advocates have long expressed concern the guidelines are not strong enough.
And the researchers say parents agree. Although the industry’s program was implemented between 2009 and 2011, parents have become increasingly concerned about food marketing to children. For example, 65 percent of parents said the food industry was a negative industry on their kids’ eating habits in 2011, up from 59 percent in 2009.
“The food and media industries must do more to support parents’ efforts to raise healthy children,” said Harris. “If parents demand that food companies change their youth-targeted marketing practices or that government step in if companies do not improve voluntarily, food marketing to children would improve.”
Improvements to food marketing aren’t the only thing that parents support, the survey finds.
The strongest support from parents came for improvements to food and beverages sold at schools. The survey finds that 81 percent of parents support or strongly support nutritional standards for school lunches, 77 percent support or strongly support such standards for all foods sold in schools, and 72 percent support or strongly support requiring that only healthy food can be sold in school vending machines specifically.
Editor’s note: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) helped fund the survey. PreventObesity.net is a project of RWJF.