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Food marketers use online games to target children

Childhood obesity is something often discussed on Upstream. And with the growth of this public health problem, people continue to seek answers as to what contributes to this epidemic. As written about in the NY Times, online games that serve as advertising ploys by food companies to sell often unhealthy food may be one contributor.

Many argue that the internet offers a new way for marketers to engage children and criticize their use of online games to sell products like sugary cereals and other fatty foods. Susan Linn, professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says,

“Food marketers have tried to reach children since the age of the carnival barker, but they’ve never had so much access to them and never been able to bypass parents so successfully.”

But as always, there are two sides to the story. In 2006, 17 large companies (McDonald’s and Pepsi included) made a voluntary pledge to reduce marketing of their least nutritious foods to kids. Although the Better Business Bureau reports that compliance with this pledge is high, one wonders whether the options being marketed are any healthier than the other “less healthy” options that these brands tout.

Research shows that children do not fully understand advertising until ages 11 or 12. What responsibility do we have to advocate for children in the area of food marketing? Should we work towards more stringent regulations or find ways to counter the current advertisements?