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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Sanchez

Mitigating the Impact of Digital Marketing for Unhealthy Food

This week on the Balanced Blog, guest contributor Jendi Brooks, takes a look at the connection between digital marketing, unhealthy food, and negative health outcomes for our children and families.

One of the greatest threats to public health in the last twenty years is the prevalence of childhood obesity. NCBI reports that 170 million children below the age of 18 are either overweight or obese, and sadly, the computer use that has become second nature to today’s children is a major factor for this. Today’s kids are also very familiar with social media, which they can access easily through multiple devices – all of which allow companies to easily target them. In this post we will look at the connection between digital marketing and unhealthy food.

A tool for success

Modern technology means more customized advertising techniques that target children through pop-up ads that appear while they’re playing online games or checking their social media feeds. Digital marketing now attracts great ad attention and recall, thus creating better brand awareness and intent to purchase. Maryville University’s online marketing degree page highlighted this trend, claiming that digital ad spending is expected to break the $335 billion mark this year. Considering the internet’s advantage over traditional media and the amount of money invested in online advertising, digital marketers, especially those that promote unhealthy food, are able to effectively target their top, and most vulnerable, customer bases.

Policing content

YouTube, as one of the main digital marketing players, decided to update its ad policies for children’s content. These policies cover food and beverage advertising in content aimed at children. A prominent critic of YouTube’s child-directed content, Senator Ed Markey emphasizes his disdain for advertising policies that do not take into consideration the impacts of the platform on young minds. Although this includes targeted and unhealthy advertising, more needs to be done in terms of establishing restrictions against manipulative marketing campaigns that lure children because they’re promoted by favored influencers. YouTube’s shift to a more stringent advertising policy is a step in the right direction.

A one-sided approach

Previously, The Power of Parents discussed how it appears that the food industry’s main concern is to capitalize on children and parents by investing in billions of dollars worth of junk food advertising. As idealistic as it is to impose rules for this type of advertising, food and agricultural policy scholar Robert Paarlberg is skeptical of its success. He notes that food ads are also a form of commercial protected speech. The issue has been brought up as a matter to be discussed by the Supreme Court.

While altering the advertorial content of unhealthy food should be an institutional change, it may not be wise to be fully reliant on these stakeholders to follow through, since it is an income-generating business. It is, however, an important healthcare concern. In the meantime, parents, guardians, and even teachers, should make it their goal to help filter out the content their children or students consume and teach them the importance of responsible viewership. This is a step towards fighting the good fight; pushing for a healthier and more critically-aware generation.

Article exclusively for

By Jendi Brooks

Editor's note: at Balanced, we generally avoid using the term "obesity" or focusing specifically on body size as a negative health outcome, that being said, we recognize the term is often used in medical and public health literature and a lot of data is organized around this term, which is why it is used in this guest post.


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