You can offset the negative effect of advertising on your kids’ eating habits.

In my experience, parents often think that the only way to prevent advertising from ruining their kids’ eating habits is to get ads off TV (and all the other places where food manufacturers target ads at kids).

I’m not against advocacy. If you work to change the system, I say, “thank you,” and “thank you again.” Someone’s got to do it.

But you don’t have to wait for advertisers to get the message in order to change the outcome for your kids.

Research shows that telling kids the truth about advertising works better than either restricting access to advertising or restricting access to junky food.

How often do you tell your children the following?

  • Advertising depicts products as better than they really are.
  • Advertising does not always tell the truth.
  • The purpose of advertising is to sell products.
  • Not all advertised products are of good quality.
  • Some advertised products are not good for children.

Share these thoughts frequently. It matters and it works.

When my daughter was about 4 or 5 she asked, “What’s that?” pointing to some fruit strip-type product. “That’s candy that the manufacturers want you to think is fruit,” I replied.

Research also shows…

1) Actively talking to your kids about advertising works even with young kids.

They understand a lot more than you think.

2) Restricing access to ads only affects eating habits when kids are young. 

Presumably restriction stops working with older kids because they don’t live in a bubble. Kids are exposed to the effects of advertising in lots of different ways: Friends. School. The Internet.

And, think about this: If you restrict but don’t talk to your kids about the truth behind advertising, you’ll launch your kids into the world unprepared to be savvy consumers.

So, by all means restrict access to TV, but talk to your kids as well.

3) Be careful: Restricting your kids’ access to junk can actually increase consumption…

…especially once your kids are old enough to make their own food choices. So instead of restricting, I recommend you consider teaching. Read The How-to-Control-Your-Kids’ Candy-Consumption Con.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Buijzen, M., J. Schuurman, and E. Bomhof. 2008. “Associations Between Children’s Television Advertising Exposure and Their Food Consumption Patterns: a Household Diary-Survey Study.” Appetite 50: 231-39.