Online Program

Smart Snacks or Not? Snack Food Advertising to Children and Teens

Monday, November 2, 2015 : 12:30 p.m. - 12:50 p.m.

Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Introduction: To comply with USDA’s new nutrition standards for foods sold in schools, companies have reformulated existing products and introduced new ones that meet these Smart Snacks standards. However, companies continue to market snacks that do not meet these standards to children in the media and other venues and continue to target many of their least nutritious products to youth ages 12 and older. Research has not examined whether companies also advertise Smart Snacks outside of school settings.

Methods: We compiled data from syndicated media sources and field research to evaluate youth exposure to advertising on TV and digital media for snack foods from 2008 to 2014. We also compared the nutritional quality of snacks advertised to youth in 2014 with those offered as Smart Snacks in schools.

Results: In 2014, food companies spent $1.2 billion to advertise snacks, primarily yogurt, chips and sweet snacks. On average, children and adolescents viewed over 600 TV ads for snacks. Despite improvements since 2008, the majority of ads continued to promote snacks high in sugar, fat or sodium, including some brands with healthier unadvertised versions available for schools. In contrast, youth viewed approximately 30 TV ads for fruits and vegetables.

Discussion: Nutritionally poor foods continue to dominate snack advertising to youth on TV and the internet, presenting a significant barrier to public health efforts to increase demand for healthier snacks. Advertising for snack brands with more nutritious versions sold only in schools also may mislead children and parents about these products’ nutritional quality.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Evaluate food industry advertising of snack foods to children and adolescents and evaluate the nutrition quality of advertised products. Identify options for public health initiatives to increase demand for healthier snacks among young people and improve school food policies.

Keyword(s): Children and Adolescents, Marketing

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have studied food marketing to youth for over ten years and have authored more than 50 papers on the topic.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.