‘Advergames’ and the Unhealthy Truth of Food Marketing

food marketingIn a country founded upon the belief that business drives growth and prosperity, are food manufacturers bound by a moral obligation to contribute to the health and wellness of their customers? When are food marketing techniques considered predatory and recognized for their intent to mislead their target audience? At what point does the greater good concern our collective health and not our collective wealth?

When economic activity interferes with the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of a generation, measures must be taken in order to eliminate the potential harm caused by aggressive marketing in order to create a food environment that affords everyone the opportunity to live long, happy and healthy lives.

To help illustrate my point, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that playing ‘advergames’, which promote the consumption of energy-dense, nutrient deficient ‘junk’ foods, increase the energy intake in children. This seems fairly intuitive considering this tricky marketing technique is a way for large food manufacturers (a.k.a. Big Food) to influence the consumption of their products while establishing brand loyalty in legions of kids. Honestly, if I were to spend even a marginal amount of my free time running around Bedrock trying to collect Pebbles cereal (courtesy of our friends at Post) I would most certainly entertain similar activities in the real world and would definitely pester my folks into purchasing a few similarly questionable food products.

Products so questionable, in fact, that the fine folks at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity published a lengthy analysis on the limited progress in nutritional quality of children’s cereals in spite of growing concern over their contribution to adolescent ill health and obesity. Although this report does recognize the incremental improvements cereal manufacturers have made in the nutrient value of their products (the average nutrition score for childes cereals improved from 40 to 43 on a 100 point scale), the slight improvements are overshadowed by the shift in marketing techniques used by said companies that emphasize the consumption of their least nutritious products over those that have been improved. The simple fact is that the continued production of low-quality foods and the relentless advertising activity specifically geared towards children continue to poison youth around the world.

So, at what point are food manufacturers responsible for the physical harm caused by their continued production and relentless marketing of their nutrient deficient foods? How about when roughly 30% of children are considered overweight or obese and we when we must redefine a disease, type II (adult onset) diabetes, to include a generation formerly thought to be exempt?

Oh, wait!

Wanna know more? Here are a few articles that also discuss food marketing and childhood obesity:

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by laffy4k

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About the Author

A holistic nutritionist in the making, Matthew spends the majority of his time trying to unravel the beautifully complex relationship between food, health and spiritual well-being. While this may sound like a somewhat glamorous pursuit, his daily journey towards enlightenment often begins and ends in front of a computer or textbook with the occasional retreat to the kitchen to rejuvenate his mind and body. When not enthralled in his quest to greater understanding, Matthew can be found attempting some insane test of physical endurance on the highways of Arizona, eating peanut butter and banana bagel sandwiches in his pajamas, or watching cartoons with his amazing fiance and puppy. If you're interested in joining Matthew on his journey to health and wellness, please feel free to follow him on Twitter (@veggiematthew), Facebook or at his blog.
  • You make a really great point in your post. It’s sad how companies really focus their ad budgets on targeting kids. I think work should be done on both sides – less ads to kids and more education to parents to help them make better and more educated choices for their families. This is something I love doing – as a dietetic intern (almost RD) I love doing education sessions with parents and families. And I see it all the time – they fall for this advertising. We gotta do more and we need to do better!

    • Exactly! A lot of people want to place blame on either one or the other, but its integral that change happens at both the ‘top’ and the ‘bottom’. No amount of public policy will matter if we don’t empower ourselves to make the best decisions for our health. Keep fighting the good fight, Maria!