Public Health Nutrition

Social, economic, political and environmental determinants

Marketing foods to children and adolescents: licensed characters and other promotions on packaged foods in the supermarket

Jennifer L Harrisa1 c1, Marlene B Schwartza1 and Kelly D Brownella1

a1 Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, PO Box 208369, New Haven, CT 06520-8369, USA


Objective To analyse cross-promotions targeted to children and adolescents on packaging in the supermarket.

Design On three occasions from 2006 to 2008, researchers purchased all foods in a large supermarket that included a cross-promotion on the package. A total of 397 products were categorized by promotional partner, food category, targeted age group, promotion type, product nutrition, and company policies on marketing to children.

Results The number of products with youth-oriented cross-promotions increased by 78 % during the period examined. Overall, 71 % of cross-promotions involved third-party licensed characters and 57 % appealed primarily to children under 12 years of age; however, the use of other forms of promotions increased from 5 % of the total in 2006 to 53 % in 2008, and promotions targeting pre-school and general audiences increased from 23 % to 54 % of the total. Only 18 % of products met accepted nutrition standards for foods sold to youth, and nutritional quality declined during the period examined. Food manufacturers with policies limiting marketing to children represented 65 % of all youth-oriented cross-promotions, their use of cross-promotions increased significantly, and the nutritional quality of their products did not improve. Some media companies did reduce the use of their properties on food promotions.

Conclusions Overall, the supermarket environment worsened due to an increase in cross-promotions targeted to children and adolescents and a decline in the nutritional quality of these products. This analysis failed to find improvements in food marketing to youth and highlights the need to expand current industry self-regulatory pledges.

(Received February 23 2009)

(Accepted July 17 2009)

(Online publication September 01 2009)


c1 Corresponding author: Email