Addressing Misleading Nutrition Marketing on Children's Foods

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Childhood obesity is a complex issue with many contributing factors. Today, children live in an obesogenic environment that promotes the consumption calorie dense foods high in sugar, fat, and sodium. While much of the previous research has focused on linking the consumption of junk foods to obesity, an important area that has been overlooked until recently is how regular children’s foods are contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic. Today, a large proportion of children’s foods are being marketed with nutrition claims, health claims, and industry generated front-of-package nutrition logos despite the fact that they contain high levels, of sugar, fat, and sodium. A study by Elliott (2008) found that 89% of the children’s foods in Canadian grocery stores were marketed with nutrition and health claims, yet 63% of them could be classified “as of poor nutritional quality” due to their high levels of sugar, fat, and sodium. Similarly, a study by Colby (2010) examining a large sample of foods in the US found that 42% of children’s foods contained both nutrition marketing and high levels of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. These regular foods which include granola bars, breakfast cereals, fruit leathers, and yogourts are often marketed with claims such as ‘excellent source of calcium’, ‘reduced fat’, and ‘made with real fruit juice’ in large font on the front of the packaging of children’s foods in order to appeal to parents. Claims that prominently single out one nutrient in large bold font of the front of a food package in a nutritionally inferior product high in sugar, fat, and sodium could be construed as misleading advertisement. The misleading information conveyed by claims on children’s food packaging can be framed as a problem of information asymmetry. Foods boldly displaying large nutrition claims that draw attention one nutrient in an otherwise unhealthy product interfere with parents’ ability to accurately judge the nutritional quality of the foods they are purchasing for their children. As a result, many uninformed parents swayed by health and nutrition claims may end up purchasing foods for their children that are high in sugar, fat, and salt. Regulated nutrition and health claims as well as unregulated industry generated nutrition logos constitute the two main sources of information asymmetry. Although the Food and Drugs Regulations lay out specific criteria for the use of nutrition and health claims, it falls short in two major areas: it does not prohibit foods high in sugar, fat, and sodium from carrying health or nutrition claims, nor does it prohibit food manufacturers from displaying their own unregulated nutrition logos on the front of children’s food packages. As a result, food manufacturers are free to continue aggressively marketing their unhealthy foods to parents with important consequences for children’s weight and their future health.
Veit, Christine. (2013). Addressing Misleading Nutrition Marketing on Children's Foods ( Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from