Kansas State University


K-State Business Insights Newsletter

Food Marketing and Child BMI

Does food marketing directed towards children impact the child’s Body Mass Index (BMI)? New research in the forthcoming Journal of Current Issues and Research in Advertising investigates.

Research By: Doug Walker, associate professor of marketing, Kansas State University
Jessica Mikeska, assistant professor of marketing, Indiana State University
Les Carlson, professor of marketing, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

In the United States, child obesity has increased by 200 percent over the past three decades, leading researchers to explore the causes of this phenomenon. Using data from both parents and their children, this study finds that parents vary in their perceptions of the appropriateness of child-directed food marketing, and that these perceptions do impact parental efforts to intervene.

Parents that believe that food marketing should not be directly targeted at children are more likely to monitor sedentary behaviors such as television watching and video game play and to encourage physical activity. These interventions are effective in reducing the child’s BMI, but only when observed food marketing as reported by the child (e.g. television commercials and advertisements in schools) is at low levels.

Specifically, the study finds that when food marketing directed at the child is prevalent, the parent’s efforts have no impact on BMI. In other words, food marketing directed at children appears to offset the benefits of parental behaviors focused on encouraging a more active lifestyle for their children in terms of the child’s BMI.

For parents concerned about their child’s BMI, encouraging activity and discouraging sedentary pursuits is not enough. Exposure to food marketing must also be curtailed, ranging from the use of commercial-free streaming television services rather than broadcast or cable television, to getting involved in decisions concerning the placement of advertising in schools.

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