By Healthy Child Staff

How big a role does advertising play in your child’s desire for junk food or fast food?

“Parents were as concerned about junk food marketing to children as they were about alcohol and tobacco use in the media,” according to the Yale Rudd Center For Food Policy and Obesity, which released results of a multi-year parent survey in October, “Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents: What Do Parents Think?”

The Rudd Center surveyed 2,454 parents of children ages 2-17 from 2009 -2011. The majority of parents endorsed government policies to prohibit food marketing to children; there was high parental support included “advertising on school buses (69%) and requiring companies to fund advertising for healthy and unhealthy foods equally (68%).”

According to the report “parents also approved of regulations to limit specific type of unhealthy food marketing to children under 12, including advertising/ sponsorships in schools (65%), mobile marketing (65%), TV commercials (63%), viral marketing (62%), and 
internet advertising (61%).”

The parents did not put all the blame for rising rates of childhood obesity on advertising, citing personal responsibility (60%) and an unhealthy food environment (40%) as more significant obstacles to good eating choices. However, the influential role of media and marketing was cited as a growing concern, particularly by Black and Hispanic parents.

Junk food and fast food companies spend $10.5 billion targeting advertising to children every year. The Institute of Medicine, the American Heart Association, and the American Journal of Public Health all agree that aggressive marketing of junk food to children and adolescents is a major contributor to childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years according to the Centers for Disease Control. The U.S. Government has taken steps to combat childhood obesity, by working with companies like Disney to offer healthier food at its parks and supporting voluntary industry agreements intended to limit advertising to children (which were shot down by the industry).

But those measures won’t be enough if the impact of junk food advertising on children isn’t reined in.

One obstacle to change is current tax law, which allows junk and fast food marketing companies (as well as other businesses) to deduct advertising costs from income taxes. This situation prompted outgoing U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to charge that the government actually subsidizes junk and fast food marketing at a rate of nearly $2 billion dollars per year. Rep. Kucinich introduced legislation to end the “childhood obesity subsidy.”

Real reform may not happen until parents and consumers weigh in, galvanizing political pressure for change, according to Bettina Elias Siegel, a food blogger at The Lunch Tray and a Healthy Child Healthy World Mom On a Mission nominee.

Bettina’s right, unfortunately. While it’s just plain indecent for food companies to aim $10 billion worth of advertising unhealthy food to children every year, it’s perfectly legal. Changing rules about junk food marketing won’t be done voluntarily or legislatively without parents using their collective market and political power against the food industry, which has billions of dollars at stake.

Parents, we’ve got a food fight on our hands.

Do you support restrictions against junk food advertising to combat childhood obesity?