Children and young people: food and food marketing
Children and young people: food and food marketing

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Children and young people: food and food marketing

6 How children’s food ‘choices’ are affected by wider environmental factors

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Figure 4 An example of an advertisement.

The next activity introduces you to some factors that influence the foods that children eat.

Activity 2

Before you watch a video (in the following activity), consider the reasons you believe children and families eat the way they do – you may find it helpful to make a quick note of these first.

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Public media discourse about food and eating focuses almost exclusively on ‘choices’, placing responsibility squarely with parents and children. However, this video explores some other ways we might think about the wider, systemic factors that affect the foods that parents and children buy and eat.

In this video you will hear Anna Taylor talk about the work of the UK-based Food Foundation, an organisation that aims to change people’s ability to eat healthily through policy and building public understanding about how the food we eat is affected by entire food systems rather than by individuals. You will also listen to Professor of Law at the University of Liverpool, Amandine Garde, who discusses how using the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to invoke child rights might improve children’s diets and who argues that the rights to both protection and participation enshrined in the CRC need to be considered when advocating for children’s rights to be healthy. Her work relates to the very widespread marketing of unhealthy food and drink that has been demonstrated to affect children’s food preferences, requests, and purchases and thus the quality of their diet.

Activity 3

Before watching this video, consider these questions:

  • Do you think that children have the right to engage in social life, including media and digital worlds, without encountering marketing for unhealthy foods? Or do you think they should be allowed to make their own eating choices?
  • Why is the ‘healthy choices’ agenda problematic?
  • What do you think of a ‘children’s rights’ approach to children and food?

Now watch the video.

Download this video clip.Video player: video_01_v1-sized.mp4
Skip transcript


We have really a national crisis of overweight and obesity. 1 in 5 of our primary school-aged children start school already overweight or obese. By the time they've left primary school, that's turned to 1 in 3. And if you're poor and living in Britain, your chances of being obese as a child are double those of children who are in very wealthy parts of the country.
Very often, in public discourses, there is this idea that children have to make healthy choices, that parents have to make healthy choices on their behalves, and so on and so forth. But shift the emphasis and the onus for health on children, their families, et cetera. A children's rights approach places children and their interests at the heart of the policy process, and, in so doing, it helps shift the emphasis from a purely personal responsibility approach to a more societal approach to obesity and its underlying causes and the response that is therefore required.
At the end of the day, you can make lots of great, healthy choices. Parents can do that on behalf of their children. And I think we don't want to take away from the people's individual agency and say, yes, if you have got the knowledge, you've got the money, you've got the right shops available to you, you've got the cooking facilities you need at home, the skills to prepare that food in the right way, yes, you can really carve your furrow. And there are households in the UK on extremely low incomes who are managing to do that and a huge credit to them. However, that whole idea that you just have to make healthy choices is dependent on all of those different assets and resources being in place. And, at the end of the day, it relies on us as consumers or children as consumers doing all of the heavy lifting.
States have an obligation to ensure that children's rights to health is protected, that children's rights to nutritious food is protected. So as far as obesity is concerned, that requires that states should promote a nurturing environment where healthy food is easily accessible and affordable.
Children are vulnerable to food marketing for a few reasons. One is marketing and advertising helps to normalise things. One of the tricks of the trade, if you're an advertiser, is that you want to present your product as being something that everybody uses, and that you're kind of missing out. You're not like everybody else if you're not using it. They normalise these products. And they also build in a degree of aspiration into those products as they present them to children. We did a report called Force-Fed a couple of years ago now, which really tells the story of the food system in Britain through the lens of an average income family in the UK. And the conclusion from that report, we looked at what the health outcomes are, what a typical shopping basket is, where they're eating out, what are the nutrients in their diet, and what's the food environment that they experience. So by the food environment, I mean where we as individuals interact with the food system. So it's what we see when we walk into a takeaway. It's what we see on a billboard in the street. It's what we see on telly when we are seeing adverts between something we're watching. It's what the environment's like when we walk into the supermarket. That's all about food environment. And what we found with Force-Fed is that the food environment is so stacked against us making healthy choices. This is not a level playing field.
I'm hoping-- and this is perhaps very naive of me-- that a children's rights approach will remind states of their obligations towards children and will ensure that children's best interests are indeed recognised as a primary consideration. And, in so doing, hopefully, the political will develop to translate evidence into action.
But we think that vegetables in the UK needs an entirely new transformation in the image that they have. At the moment, they're associated with something worthy, that your mum makes you eat, you have to eat it, it's good for your health. It's not something you want to eat. We want to change that. So we are trying to mobilise a bit of resource to run and do some pilot campaigns which get kids really excited about eating veg. Can you imagine a situation where children were pestering their parents to get them to buy them certain vegetables to try? It's sort of unimaginable at the moment for most parents that their children would be asking for those things rather than junk food. But what we want to try and do is change that and actually drive the pester power towards veg.
End transcript
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Now consider: did anything you heard from these two experts surprise you? And do you think that children can be persuaded to pester parents for vegetables – instead of sweets and snacks?


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