Why do kids sometimes “pester” their parents to buy specific foods and drinks? What makes them like one brand over another? For the next few issues of the Healthy Drinks Insider, we are going to explore this topic.  To get started, this issue is about online marketing of food and drinks.

Marketing aims to shape what we like and what we buy.  Some strategies are more effective on children.  These include the use of celebrities and cartoon characters, collectables and competitions.   Companies sometimes use these strategies to promote food and drinks that are high in fat, sugar and/or salt. This practice can contribute to habits that increase kids’ risk for poor health.

Marketing to kids isn’t new.  What is new is how and when marketing happens.  Companies are more often reaching children through their phones and tablets.  Companies interact with children directly through  videos, music, messaging, online games, and social media.  They can even customize content based on the child’s online profile.  Some children may not be able to recognize the meaning behind these messages.  In the end, they may develop a lasting preference for a specific brand.

According to recent research report, marketing of unhealthy food and drinks through social media and online games (also referred to as “advergaming”) does have the intended result.   Children are more likely to ask their parents to purchase to these products, and more often eat/drink them.

We can’t shield our kids from all outside influences, and use of digital devices is likely to increase in the future.  So what can parents do?  Here are three ideas:

  1. Take steps to minimize kids’ exposure to online marketing.  You can do this by setting time limits on their use of digital devices and/or limiting access to only those apps, websites, games that promote healthy habits.
  2. Help kids recognize and resist others’ attempts to influence them.  One way to do this is talk about ads when you see one together (for example a TV commercial).   Ask questions that encourage kids to think about the meaning behind the messages.
  3. Let your Federal elected officials know that you are concerned about online marketing to children.  Find out what they can do to help.

For more information and resources about media and children, go to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Next month’s issue will focus on how children are influenced at places where food and drinks are sold.

Do you have suggestions for a topic for our newsletter? If so, we would love to hear from you. Write to RethinkYourDrink@unr.edu. We will send you a free healthy drink recipe book for your suggestions!

This article was written and reviewed by Rethink Your Drink Nevada’s team of nutrition and dietetic professionals.

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