Food Marketing and Labeling

Hamburger and Fries

The billions of dollars that the food industry spends on junk-food marketing each year influence what children eat-and what they pester their parents to buy. That’s why curbing junk-food marketing to children is an urgently needed strategy for obesity prevention. Also important is giving consumers more information about what’s really in their food, by standardizing nutrition labels and adding calorie information to restaurant menus. Changes in food marketing and labeling can make it easier for everyone to make better food choices, and may also nudge food producers to create healthier offerings. In the U.S., for example, after the Food and Drug Administration required manufacturers to start listing heart-harmful trans fats on the Nutrition Facts label in 2006, food makers and restaurants switched to using more healthful sources of fat. Since then, trans fat levels in the U.S. food supply have dropped, as have blood levels of trans fat. (Read more about trans fats on The Nutrition Source website.)

Here is a summary of food marketing and labeling recommendations for obesity prevention, based on a review of expert guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.

Food Marketing to Children

Limit marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children on television and other electronic media (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11)

  • Require food marketed to children to meet nutritional standards (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11)
  • Limit the amount of time per hour of children’s programming that can include food marketing (1)
  • Encourage the food and restaurant industry to shift marketing efforts toward more healthful foods and beverages for children (12)
  • If voluntary efforts to improve the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children on television are not successful, enact federal legislation (12)

Restrict food product placement in television shows/movies, and restrict other forms of marketing to children, such as marketing agreements between entertainment brands and food brands (2,11,13)

Restrict food marketing in settings where children gather, such as parks and near schools (2,9,11,14,15,16,17,18)

Monitor compliance with and enforcement of child food marketing regulations at the national level (5,9,12,16)

Restaurant Marketing and Menu Labeling

Require restaurants to post calorie information on menus and menu boards (1,3,4,7,8,10,13,15,17,19,20,21)Restaurant Marketing and Menu Labeling

Give restaurants incentives to offer healthier items, such as by creating promotional campaigns that highlight or recognize healthy restaurants or by offering other marketing support (1,15,17,20,21)

Set nutrition requirements for meals that include toys, giveaways, or other incentives aimed at children (10,11,13)

Nutrition Labeling

Standardize front-of-package health labeling (5,8,10,11,22,23)

Require more prominent calorie-per-serving labeling on food packaging (23)

Require additional information on food labeling, such as recommended daily limit on added sugar consumption or caffeine consumption (23)

Public Health Marketing

Develop public service media and social marketing campaigns to promote healthy eating and drinking (1,3,4,12,17)

Develop counter-marketing campaigns, such as campaigns that highlight the negative health impact of sugar-sweetened beverages and other unhealthful foods (1,4,24)

Food Marketing and Labeling-Source List

1. American Academy of Pediatrics.Prevention and Treatment of Child Overweight and Obesity: Policy Opportunities Tool. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010. Accessed October 4, 2010.

2. American Heart Association.Policy Position Statement on Food Advertising and Marketing Practices to Children. Dallas: American Heart Association; 2008.

3. American Medical Association.Childhood Obesity: American Medical Association (AMA) policy and guidelines. Chicago: American Medical Association.

4. Frieden TR, Dietz W, Collins J.Reducing childhood obesity through policy change: acting now to prevent obesity.Health Aff (Millwood). 2010;29:357-63.

5. Hill D, Swinburn B, Johnson G, Harper T.Comprehensive Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy: Second submission from the Obesity Policy Coalition. Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Obesity Policy Coalition; 2010.

6. Obesity Policy Coalition.Obesity Prevention: Priorities for Action. Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Obesity Policy Coalition; 2007.

7. Lee V, Mikkelsen L, Srikantharajah J, Cohen L.Promising Strategies for Creating Healthy Eating and Active Living Environments. Oakland: Prevention Institute; 2008.

8. Engelhard CL, Dorn S.Reducing Obesity: Policy strategies from the tobacco wars. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2009.

9. World Health Organization. Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. In:Prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases: implementation of the global strategy. Geneva: World Health Organization; November 2009.

10. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity.Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity; 2010.

11. Levi J, Segal LM, St. Laurent R, Kohn D.F as in Fat 2011: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future. Washington, D.C.: Trust for America’s Health/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; 2011.

12. Institute of Medicine.Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2006.

13. Center for Science in the Public Interest.Reducing Junk Food Marketing to Children: State and Local Policy Options for Advocates and Policy Makers. Washington, D.C.: Center for Science in the Public Interest; 2010.

14. Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States.MMWR Recomm Rep. 2009;58:1-26.

15. Institute of Medicine.Local government actions to prevent childhood obesity. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences Press; 2009.

16. Swinburn B, Baur L, Brownell K, et al.The Sydney Principles: guiding principles for achieving a substantial level of protection for children against the commercial promotion of food and beverages. London: International Obesity Taskforce; 2007.

17. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.Action Strategies Toolkit: A Guide for local and state leaders working to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity. Washington, D.C.: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; 2009.

18. Friedman R.Strategies to Prevent Overweight and Obesity. New Haven: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity; 2010.

19. American Heart Association.Policy Position Statement on Menu Labeling. Dallas: American Heart Association; 2008.

20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The CDC Guide to Strategies for Reducing the Consumption of Energy Dense Foods. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2010.

21. U.S. Conference of Mayors.Mayors’ Guide to Fighting Childhood Obesity. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Conference of Mayors; 2009.

22. American Heart Association.Policy Position Statement on Food Package and Retail Shelf Icon Systems. Dallas: American Heart Association; 2009.

23. Center for Science in the Public Interest.Food Labeling Chaos: The Case for Reform. Washington, D.C.; 2010.

24. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The CDC Guide to Strategies for Reducing the Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages; 2010.