As part of the First 5 LA-funded Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative (ECOPI), the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) in partnership with ChangeLab Solutions has released a comprehensive toolkit called Marketing Matters: A White Paper on Strategies to Reduce Unhealthy Food and Beverage Marketing to Young Children. The toolkit highlights concepts for state and local policymakers to consider, along with strategies for local communities to reduce the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.
There is a critical need for such strategies to address unhealthy marketing of foods and beverages to children, according to DPH. Food marketing has a significant impact on the diets and health of children as companies are spending $1.79 billion annually to specifically market foods to children. The overwhelming majority of the foods and beverages marketed to children are of poor nutritional quality, which leads to overconsumption of unhealthy foods and an underconsumption of fruits and vegetables.
“The adverse health impacts of the widespread marketing of unhealthy food and beverage products to young children are unfortunately not well recognized by the general public or policymakers,” said Paul Simon, Director of the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at DPH. “The Marketing Matters toolkit raises the visibility of the problem, and will help empower local communities to address it by providing information on different policy strategies that can be taken by local government, schools, private businesses and other organizations to reduce this marketing.”
“The adverse health impacts of the widespread marketing of unhealthy food and beverage products to young children are unfortunately not well recognized by the general public or policymakers.” - Paul Simon
In L.A. County, nearly one in four children (24 percent) ages 0–5 drink one or more sugar sweetened beverages—such as sodas, sports and juice drinks—each day. Additionally, 42 percent of children 5 years and under consume fast food at least once a week. Poor dietary habits, which can be a result of the marketing of unhealthy foods, can contribute to childhood obesity and other chronic diseases. The obesity rate among 3- and 4-year-old children receiving WIC nutrition services in L.A. County was 19 percent in 2014, almost as high as the obesity rate among adults in L.A. County, which was 24 percent.
Marketing Matters provides a summary of the issue, legal background for local strategies and a list of policy recommendations categorized by legal feasibility. Additionally, the toolkit includes tailored handouts targeting policymakers, parents and community groups with calls to action on how they can reduce the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages.
“Marketing Matters is a well-researched report with a wealth of information that has the potential to be a great resource to L.A. County through the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative,” said First 5 LA Senior Program Officer Reena John. “This report, along with a number of other strategies working with parents, communities and various health-related systems, will work to curb childhood obesity in L.A. County.”
Local communities are well positioned to take the lead in changing the food and beverage marketing environment in multiple settings, according to DPH. Through the ECOPI grant and the Choose Health LA Kids program, DPH is working with 20 community agencies throughout L.A. County to support parent coalitions to explore how they can work together to reduce the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages in their communities.