Parents are concerned about food marketing and the way it impacts their children’s eating habits and would support policies to limit the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, according to a new report from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
Black and Hispanic parents reported believing that their children saw more food advertising and were more affected by that advertising compared with white parents, the report found. They also perceived more obstacles to ensuring healthy eating habits for their children, and were more supportive of most policies to promote healthy eating habits and limit food marketing.
Black and Hispanic parents, however, did not view the influence of food companies on their children’s eating habits more negatively, the report found.
In fact, because many food companies, including McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, invest significant amounts in targeted marketing to black and Hispanic youth and programs to support black and Hispanic communities, it appears that these programs may be successfully deflecting blame for obesity away from the food companies, according to the report.
“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 director of marketing initiatives at the Rudd Center. “Parents are becoming more aware of food marketing and they want to start seeing real improvements.”
The study is the first of its kind to assess parents’ attitudes about policies to promote healthy eating, such as nutrition standards for foods sold in schools, as well as policies limiting marketing to children. Researchers conducted an online survey of more than 2,000 parents of children and teens ages 2-17 in 2009, 2010, and 2011. They surveyed parents who participate in decisions about food and beverage choices in their households.
They found that parents overall are just as concerned about advertisements promoting unhealthy foods to children as they are about alcohol and tobacco use in the media.
Parental approval was highest for policies that would set nutrition standards for foods sold in schools (supported by 72-81 percent of parents) and policies that would promote healthy eating in children’s media (70-73 percent).
Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, directs the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, which researches Latino health issues and founded the SaludToday Latino health blog, Twitter and Facebook. Dr. Ramirez, an internationally recognized cancer health disparities researcher, has spent 30 years directing research on human and organizational communication to reduce chronic disease and cancer health disparities affecting Latinos, including cancer risk factors, clinical trial recruitment, tobacco prevention, obesity prevention, healthy lifestyles, and more. She also trains/mentors Latinos in behavioral sciences and is on the board of directors for LIVESTRONG, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and others.