Study: Ads selling junk food overwhelmingly targeting youth
02/06/2017 // Amy Goodrich // Views

Even though you, the health-conscious parent, steer your children toward fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and limit their time in front of the TV, junk food ads are still having a tremendous impact on their life. While your kids surf the Internet, chat with their friends on Facebook, play an online game, or download an app for their mobile phone, they get bombarded by millions of unhealthy food ads.

Over 90 percent of food and beverage ads viewed by kids and teens are for fast food, energy drinks, sugary snacks, and other unhealthy food or drink options. A recent report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has urged the food industry to stop targeting advertisements for unhealthy products to our kids.

As declared by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, these commercials are significantly influencing the food choices of our children and teens, setting them up for unhealthy eating habits for the rest of their lives. (RELATED: See more news about junk food propaganda at

Kids see 25 million unhealthy food ads a year

For their study, the researchers used comScore data to determine the top 10 websites visited by children and teens. Focusing on the number of banners and pop-up ads on these sites, the researchers calculated that children see around 25 million ads for unhealthy foods and drinks a year, while teens view about 2.5 million ads.

The authors of the report said that this enormous difference is because teens visit a much wider array of websites, resulting in fewer visitors to the top ten sites compared to younger kids. While this study is a good indicator, Monique Potvin Kent, who led the research and is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Epidemiology, Public Health, and Preventive Medicine, said that the actual number of ads children are exposed to is much higher.


Next to online advertisements, the report also noted that an average child watches about two hours of TV each day and sees up to five food and beverage commercials an hour. Do the math, and that’s an additional 3,600 plus views on top of the millions of online ads kids see every year.

Given the severe impact these commercials have on our children’s behavior and health, the Heart and Stroke Foundation group has called for strong restrictions on the marketing of food and drinks to our younger generation. (Check out for news coverage of food ingredients and their impacts on your health.)

Big Food isn’t going to stop

Last year, Senator Nancy Greene Raine introduced an act to restrict unhealthy food marketing to young children. In the past, voluntary commitments by the food industry to limit unhealthy food marketing to youth has resulted in one big failure.

The food companies that voluntarily signed the national pledge not to market unhealthy foods to kids under 12 are found to be the heaviest advertisers of products high in fat, sugar, and salt. Some of these companies include Coca-Cola, Kraft, PepsiCo, Hershey, and McDonald’s

Monique Potvin Kent noted that there are several flaws in the current commitment that allow these big food corporations to continue to market their unhealthy food and drinks. Nearly all 18 companies that signed the agreement only restrict unhealthy food advertising when the audience consists of 35 percent, or more, children under 12, thus allowing them to proceed with most of their marketing campaigns.

Furthermore, it is the companies themselves that set the nutrition criteria for their products. As reported by The Globe and Mail, food items such as chocolate Lucky Charms, Fruit Roll-Ups, Froot Loops, and a Happy Meal from McDonald’s fall under the “healthier” options which can be marketed to kids. (RELATED: Learn more about health foods at Fresh.News)

Sasha McNicoll, Coalition for Healthy School Food coordinator at Food Secure Canada, said that the evidence presented in the report clearly shows a new law regarding advertising restrictions is urgently needed to protect kids and support parents.

“If we don’t need legislation, why are a third of Canadian children overweight or obese?” she said. “[Voluntary responses] don’t work. We need to legislate this in order to see results.”


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