Professor leads lecture on how food companies market to children

Dr. Marlene Schwartz, director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and professor of human development and family studies at the University of Connecticut, speaks during her lecture "Tricks Are For Kids: How Food Companies Target Children" in Laurel Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (Mei Buzzell/The Daily Campus)

Dr. Marlene Schwartz, director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and professor of human development and family studies at the University of Connecticut, addressed how food companies market their products to children by starting from a very young age at her lecture "Tricks Are For Kids: How Food Companies Target Children" in Laurel Hall on Wednesday night.

Cereal slogan “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!” holds true in many regards, especially when considering the “tricks” employed by food companies to turn children into loyal customers, Schwartz said.

Schwartz’s presentation started out with a single question: does marketing work? She wanted to know whether the audience believed that marketing affects others as well as whether or not the audience believed it affected themselves as individuals.

In her research, Schwartz found that the majority of people she studied believed that others are affected by marketing, but they themselves are not. That, however, is simply not the case.

Schwartz recounted a story from when her daughter was younger that most audience members could relate to. While the two were at the grocery store, Schwartz’s daughter had asked her mom to buy Disney Princess themes fruit snacks for the sheer fact that the princesses were displayed on the box. Schwartz used this example to prove the fact that everyone is affected by marketing.

Food companies claim that they are just trying to get people to buy into their brand, but Schwartz said they do so at the expense of children’s health. Schwartz said food advertising relies heavily on emotion which, is exemplified in her princess themed fruit snack example.

Children are susceptible to the allure of their favorite television characters and therefore will beg their parents to buy them anything related to these characters, Schwartz said.

Capitalizing on children’s emotions, cereal, fast food and sugar-laden beverage companies are able to successfully advertise and sell their unhealthiest products.

Schwartz said the food industry knows that people want this problem regulated, but not at the expense of child targeted advertising. The past few years have seen some progress toward this movement with some companies no longer advertising toward children under the age of 12, but even that has its drawbacks.

She posed alternative solutions, such as keeping the television out of children’s bedrooms, writing letters to food companies and even just talking to children about this issue to teach them better eating habits.

When asked about her goals for the food marketing industry, Schwartz wants them “to recognize that children 14 and under are still children,” meaning that there needs to be stricter policies as to the maximum age children should be exposed to television food advertisements. 

However, in a perfect world, Schwartz said she would like for companies advertising foods that are unhealthy for children “to stop marketing toward [children] all together.”


Joey Spagnuolo is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joseph.spagnuolo@uconn.edu.