Sixty percent of the cause of the rise in childhood obesity rests with the parents, according to parents who took a Yale survey about food marketing. The parents assigned the rest of the cause to an unhealthy food environment.
Parents buy an estimated $58 billion in food and beverages annually, so the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity wanted to know what they thought about marketing to children. It conducted an online survey of 2,454 parents of children ages 2 to 17 in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Their average income was $59,000, and most of them had at least some college education.
The parents cited as the top obstacles to ensuring healthy eating habits: expense (of healthy and organic foods), easy access (to fast food, snack foods and unhealthy food in schools), children’s media usage and advertising. They also said they gave in to their kids’ requests and were not always good role models for eating.
Asked what foods their kids have seen or heard marketing about, fast food was in the top two all three years. Soda, which some public officials say bears a big responsibility for obesity, came in third each year.
The parents expressed moderate concern (6.6 to 7.9 on a scale of 10) about most youth-oriented media issues. Their concerns, in order of importance: sexual permissiveness, materialism, violence, too-thin models. In the middle of the list were “encourages children to want/buy products,” marketing of junk food to children and encouragement of bad eating habits. Tobacco and alcohol got similar scores.
“Food marketing to children isn’t exactly the foremost thing on parents’ minds,” said Elaine Kalish, vice president and director for children’s food and beverage advertising at the Better Business Bureau.
In this report and others, Rudd Center officials have said the food industry could do more to ensure healthful diets for kids.