“Big Food” has been drawing heavy fire from academics, health professionals and concerned citizens that the marketing tactics they employ are often misleading and violate federal food labeling laws. The controversy has been so great that it has even influenced the publication of an emotionally charged collection of essays by PLoS Medicine aimed at studying the impact of Big Food on developing economies, the global food system and public health. (Spoiler alert: its pretty much all bad). And, although I’m largely unfamiliar with labeling laws and the statistical impact of false advertising of health, my intuition and a few vague recollections from my undergraduate marketing class lead me to believe that the power of marketing can greatly influence poor decision making when exercised unethically or left unregulated.
That being said, a new study published in PLoS One (yes, the same open access journal mentioned above) investigates the relationship between food marketing campaigns and adolescent food-related behavior to identify sources of the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases (lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease) in India.
And, although the “Big Food” series had me emotionally and physically prepared for a multi-national vampire-hunt, the study in question was unable to find significant evidence linking exposure to food marketing and poor dietary habits. However, the assessment of brand recognition, food preference, nutritional knowledge and purchase request behavior across several socioeconomic groups indicate that parental acquiescence to child “pestering” may be more at fault in the growing rate of adolescent obesity and the early onset of lifestyle disease.
This speaks volumes.
Parents can and do influence adolescent eating behavior by remaining indifferent to their child’s food choices and facilitating poor eating habits. And, according to the study above, this indifference or inability to resist belligerent requests increases with years of formal education and wealth.
Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that large food-producing corporations DO use predatory marketing techniques to influence consumer behavior (especially in children), but I am adamant of the fact that adults ultimately choose what their dependents consume and hold the greatest responsibility in establishing the healthy eating habits of their children.