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Talking to kids about junk food ads

Talking to kids about junk food ads

In case you haven’t seen it, the New York Times’ Well blog quotes Stanford childhood obesity expert Thomas Robinson, MD, in a piece on how to help your kids filter the barrage of pro-junk food messages they get from food advertisements.

As the story describes, Robinson, who directs the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, has done extensive research on children’s responses to food advertising and branding. I’m particularly fond of the study where young children tasted pairs of identical foods in different wrappers and said which they liked better. Regardless of the food tested (hamburgers, baby carrots, french fries, milk, whatever), kids said food in a McDonald’s wrapper was yummier than food in a plain wrapper.

Food advertising targeted to kids has become so pervasive – it’s not just on TV but also all over social media, Well reports – that Robinson says parents should do more than just say “no” when their children ask for junk food:

“Respond, ‘Well, why do you want that? Where did you hear about it?’ ” said Dr. Robinson. And if the answer is that the child saw it on TV or on the Internet, “Say, ‘Well, they want you to want it, they’re trying to sell you that.’ And then have a discussion.”

And what about my aspirations of nurturing young cynics? Though teaching critical viewing skills does enhance children’s awareness, Dr. Robinson told me that relying too much on notions of media literacy can actually play into the hands of the advertisers.

“That takes the responsibility away from them and puts it on the kids to be educated consumers,” he said.

If you’re wondering how to help your kids deal with the barrage of messages they get from food ads, the entire entry is well worth reading.

Previously: Health experts to Nickelodeon: Please stop promoting unhealthy food to our kids, How food advertising and parents’ influence affect children’s nutritional choices and The First Amendment and marketing junk food to kids
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