Food Marketing to Children

Boy picking up fruit from a lunch line

Food Marketing to Children

Children see ads every day for unhealthy foods, but that can change

Children in the United States are inundated with food and beverage ads. Food, beverage and restaurant companies spend almost $14 billion per year on advertising, more than 80% of which promotes fast food, sugary drinks, candy, and unhealthy snacks. In 2016, kids and teens saw an average of 11 to 12 ads per day on television for these types of products. After seeing ads for unhealthy foods and beverages, kids are more likely to choose those products.

Food and beverage companies disproportionately target communities of color with their advertising. Because the beverage industry spends millions of dollars every year marketing to communities of color, African American children and teens see more than twice as many ads for sugary drinks than their white peers. Targeted marketing practices also contribute to African American and Hispanic youth consuming more sugary drinks and having higher rates of diabetes and heart disease, on average, compared to their white peers.

Policy changes can address the frequency and type of advertising to which children are exposed. Under a provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, schools may only feature advertising for foods and drinks that meet “Smart Snacks” nutrition guidelines. And a growing number of states and cities have adopted policies allowing only healthier drinks like water and milk, as opposed to unhealthy drinks like sodas, as the default options on kids’ meals at restaurants.


• States and local education agencies should support and implement the provision that all food and beverage advertisements on school campuses meet Smart Snacks nutrition guidelines during the school day–expand to include all forms of marketing (brand).

• The Federal Trade Commission should resume issuing reports examining food marketing to children.

• Restaurants should take soda and other sugary drinks off of kids menus and menu boards.

See All Policy Recommendations
A young African American girl drinks a cup of water

priority issue

Sugary Drinks Harm Kids’ Health

Sugary drinks are the single largest source of calories in children’s diets and provide nearly half of kids’ added sugar intake. This new special feature highlights the latest data and trends on sugary drink consumption and facts about how sugary drinks impact kids’ health. It summarizes efforts and recommendations for reducing consumption, recent research, and stories of communities taking action.

Visit Special Feature
Cover of report on food marketing
Author Q&A

Big Food, Big Tech, and Childhood Obesity

Food and beverage companies have used harmful marketing tactics to target kids for decades. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many young people were online even more, making it easier for food, beverage, and tech companies to target them with advertising for unhealthy products. Authors of a new report, Big Food, Big Tech, and the Global Childhood Obesity Pandemic, break down the strategies these companies use, and share recommendations for how to address this challenge.

Read the Story
Graphic showing marketing to Black youth

Fast Food FACTS 2021

Black and Hispanic youth are disproportionately targeted with advertising by the fast food industry, which spent $5 billion on advertising in 2019 alone. A new report by the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity analyzes advertising spending, TV advertising exposure, and targeted advertising for fast food to children, teens, and Black and Hispanic youth.

Visit FastFoodMarketing.Org

Selling Junk Food to Communities of Color

Food and beverage marketers often use these tactics specifically to target low-income groups and communities of color. Berkeley Media Studies Group has released a series of briefs describing each strategy, showing real-world examples of how they are used, and offering suggestions for action.

Read the Series

Healthy Children’s Meals Model Ordinances

Restaurants use children’s meals to market to families and young children. These meals offer smaller portion sizes, but they also often include unhealthy foods and beverages. ChangeLab Solutions has developed model ordinances for helping communities who are interested in improving the nutritional content of children’s meals sold at local restaurants.

See the Ordinances

Fast Facts


In 2018 alone, companies spent more than $1 billion on advertising sugary drinks.

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Age 2

Companies target kids as young as age 2 with TV ads for sugary drinks.

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Black children and teens saw 90% more ads for snacks and sugary drinks on TV compared with their white counterparts.

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Data to Share

Advertising targeted at Hispanic youth has drastic results. Hispanic kids visit sugary drink company websites 93 percent more than their non-Hispanic peers.
More and more cities and states across the country are implementing laws requiring milk or water as the default beverage for kids’ meals.
The beverage industry targets African American children and teens with television ads for sugary drinks—in fact they see twice as many ads compared to their white peers.
Unhealthy foods represent 86% of food advertising spent on black-targeted television programming and 82% of advertising spent on Spanish-language television.