Food and beverage marketers are finding new ways to reach children and teens on their mobile devices, and it may be affecting them in ways you’re not aware.
The World Health Organization recently said mass marketing of unhealthy foods and sugary drinks on social media platforms, through mobile apps, online videos and games is contributing to childhood obesity.
But she said parents can take steps to blunt the influence of digital marketing.
- Put limits on screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 hour a day of screen time for children 2 to 5, and consistent limits for older kids.
- Talk to your kids about the advertising and brand promotion they see, and use it as a teaching opportunity. “If you see an ad for a sugary cereal, you can suggest a healthier substitution,” Lindsay said. “Fast-food advertising provides an opportunity to suggest alternatives like milk and apple slices or a side salad.”
- Talk to your kids about smart food choices as a matter of routine.
For preschool and school-age kids, Lindsay suggests the popular traffic-light system:
- Red light foods are not as nutritious and tend to be high in fat and sugar, and should be limited.
- Yellow light foods should be eaten in moderation.
- Green light foods are healthful and should be eaten often.
With teens, you want to stress a balanced approach to eating. She advises against characterizing foods as good and bad, because it can lead to unhealthy ideas and possibly disordered eating.
Instead, emphasize that foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar are occasional treats.
You should also challenge teens to think about the nutritional benefit of brands that are heavily marketed.
“The teen years are a critical developmental time when eating habits are established and may last throughout a lifetime,” Lindsay said. “Help teens to be informed when making choices. Educate them on the marketing of foods through celebrities and sports figures.”
You may have limited control over the marketing messages your children see, but Lindsay reminds parents they have most control of the purchasing power.
“It becomes more challenging as kids get older. But that’s when the teachable moments are important, when kids are making their own food choices.”