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

New Feature

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

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


At U.S. McDonald’s restaurants, removing the listing of sodas on the Happy Meal section
of menu boards resulted in 21 million more low-fat and fat-free milk jugs sold over 11 months.

Read More


A 2015 study found that 53% of the products approved for advertising to children by the Better Business Bureau’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative did not meet nutrition standards.

Read More


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

Read More

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.