Big Food Ads Are Making Youth Fat and Sick

Story At-A-Glance

  • Kids are on average exposed to 40,000 TV commercials a year
  • $3.4 Billion of ads placed on Facebook and Youtube from the food and beverage industry
  • Black teens saw 119% more junk food ads than white teens
  • Big Food aims its ads at low income Americans
  • Banning fast food ads would reduce the number of overweight kids and adolescents by 14-18%
  • Eliminating Federal tax deductions for junk food ads would reduce obesity by 7%

     Have you purchased anything from an ad you saw on social media or online in the last month?  No judgement here! I have too.  Consider the role advertising has had on you, as an adult, and the purchases you have made from these ads.  Now consider what it would be like for a developing brain, as young as two years old, to constantly receive advertisements.  Hardly a second thought is given towards the notion of all these ads aimed at children.  Now, I’m not talking about ads for a new jacket or dining room table.  Advertisements kids and young teens are being bombarded with are coming from the big food companies and they are preying on children, adolescents, minorities, and the poor.  

     The average child is exposed to more than 40,000 television commercials a year with the advertising industry spending $12 billion per year on ads targeted at children, many coming from big food companies.  The three largest big food companies in the US are Nestle, Pepsi Co, and Tyson Foods.  Not companies known for producing healthy products.  These big food companies, among with all the others, have powerful ads and extremely effective digital marketing targeted at kids. On children television shows, every other commercial comes from the food and beverage industry.  Every hour watching Nickelodeon exposed kids to ten ads for junk food.  Of course, ads are not just on television.  In 2016, fifty-six of the biggest food companies placed $509 million of banner ads and impressions on Cartoon,, and other kids sites.  $3.4 billion of ads were spent on Facebook and Youtube from the food and beverage industry.  In the popular Pokemon Go game, users were led close to and inside fast food restaurants to collect coins.  In most cases the advertisements are blatant and food and beverage companies are making a hefty profit at the expense of children’s health. 

     Advertisements for minority and poor groups are amplified even more.  Food companies target black and hispanic youth with the least nutritious products like fast food, candy, sugary drinks, and snacks.  Minorities come across 6,000 junk-food ads a year on television.  Black teens saw 119% more junk-food ads than white teens, while food advertising to black audiences increased 50% from 2013-2017.  Big Food also aims its junk food ads at low income Americans, targeting SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients with the worst and most profitable foods like Gatorade, Pop Tarts, Twix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  The inferior the nutritional profile, the more heavily the products were promoted towards minorities and the poor. 

     The obesity epidemic has been noted as the biggest health challenge of the 21st century.  In the last thirty years, obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents.  How our children and adolescents are exposed to advertisements can play a large role in the health and well being of young Americans.  Banning fast food ads aimed at kids would reduce the number of overweight kids and adolescents in America by 14-18%.  Eliminating Federal tax deductions for junk food ads would reduce obesity by 7%.  Banning the use of cartoon and fictional characters should no longer be used to promote unhealthy foods.  Celebrities and athletes also need to publicly dissociate themselves with sugary products and fast foods.  It is time that the US put a regulation on how food and beverage companies advertise to our most vulnerable demographics.

Sources and Sites

Food Fix by Dr. Mark Hyman


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