Marketing of unhealthy food to children and youth

Food marketing is all around us. Most foods advertised to children and youth are highly processed, and are high in sodium, sugar and saturated fats. This poses important health risks at a time when they are growing and developing life long dietary habits.

Children and youth are vulnerable to food marketing because their developmental age makes them susceptible and they are highly targeted. They are easy-to-reach with child appealing ads placed everywhere they spend time during the day (schools, sports arenas, stores, etc.).

Marketing of food and drinks targets children and youth all day long.

Sophia's Day

This picture represents Sophia’s day and how she may be targeted by marketing from the time she wakes up until the time she goes to sleep.

At Home:

  • Advertisements on TV, smartphone and tablet

  • Advergames and ads on social media

Public transit:

  • Billboards and posters using cartoons, licensed characters and celebrities in vehicles and bus shelters

School/Child care:

  • Sponsored educational materials

  • Food and drinks used for fundraising


  • Branded signage outside, entrance, hallways

Recreation Centres, Parks, Rinks, Beaches:

  • Ads on rink boards

  • Branding on sports clothing and equipment

  • Where food and drink products are placed and displayed in canteen with lots of colorful packaging

Adapted from:  Prowse, R.L. (2015). A Day in the Life of a Canadian Child: Food and Beverage Marketing to Children in Canada. Prepared for Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Health Canada.

How marketing affects children and youth 

 5, 8, 10 and 16 year old

  • 5 year-old child can't tell the difference between an ad and a television show.

  • 8 year-old child unlikely to know the reasons behind marketing.

  • 10 year-old child knows that ads sell products, but is often unable to judge an ad.

  • 16 year-old youth is influenced by digital marketing. It is an entertainment, grabbing their focus and attention.

Foods children eat and ask their parents to buy can be influenced by advertising. It influences them to eat unhealthy foods and makes unhealthy foods seem "normal." Unhealthy diets over the course of time lead to high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Download "Food and Drink Marketing is Everywhere" Infographic (PDF) [3.6 MB]

What Ottawa residents had to say about marketing of unhealthy food and drinks in our city

Ottawa Public Health launched an online survey June 12, 2017, the first step in a broader public consultation, asking residents, businesses and sports groups to "have their say" on marketing of unhealthy food and beverage to children and youth in our community. The results of the consultation have helped Ottawa Public Health better understand what Ottawa residents think about marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children and youth in Ottawa and are being used to guide public health work in this area. 

The food and drink industry targets children and youth

9 in 10 agree that children and youth are targeted

3 in 4 agree that it is mostly for products that are unhealthy 

Marketing influences children and youth's food and drink choices

9 in 10 agree that it affects their food and drink choices and makes them consume more unhealthy options

3 in 4 agree that it affects what they ask their parents or guardians to buy 

Marketing impacts their health

9 in 10 agree that it can cause health problems such as obesity in children and youth, or cause health problems later when they are adults 

Marketing of food and drinks targets children and youth all day long

A school

Child Care Centres and Schools

1 in 3 have seen marketing in schools

1 in 10 have seen marketing in child care centres

8 in 10 support putting limits on marketing in child care centres and in schools

9 in 10 support decreasing the availability of unhealthy food and drinks in child care centres and schools 

A recreation centrePublic Libraries and Recreation Centres

1 in 3 have seen marketing at public libraries and recreation centres

7 in 10 support putting limits on the marketing in public libraries and recreation centres

8 in 10 support decreasing the availability of unhealthy food and drinks in public libraries or recreation centres  

A busOther City Properties

4 in 10 have seen marketing at beaches, parks, playgrounds, recreational playing fields and on public transit

7 in 10 have seen marketing at special events like festivals and sports events on City property

7 in 10 support putting limits on marketing on City property

 Download "Food and Drinks Marketing to Children and Youth in Ottawa" Infographic (PDF) [3.4 MB]

Download the full Marketing to Children and youth Consultation report (PDF)

What can you do? 

Parents and caregivers are responsible for many of their child’s food choices. However, it can be hard to compete with ads their kids are exposed to. Creating a food environment where children are not constantly exposed to marketing can help support kids in making healthy choices.

There are different ways to restrict your child’s exposure to marketing. These include:

Limit screen-time

By reducing the amount of time that your children spend in front of the television or other electronic devices, you can help reduce the amount of ads that they see during a day.

Educate your children on the topic

Have a conversation with your children about marketing. Teach them how marketing can affect food choices and how to identify marketing techniques. Also, speak to them about what information they disclose online and how this can influence how they are targeted by ads.

You can also show them how to choose foods without looking at adds, using tools such as food labels and using healthier grocery shopping  techniques.

Influence the environment outside of your home

Your children’s food choices are not only influenced by marketing on screens. They are also influenced by events where food and beverage companies are sponsors (e.g. in parks, malls, and theatres) and by branded materials offered at their schools.

Speak to your child’s school to ensure that branded materials promoting highly processed foods are not being used in the classroom. Also, try these healthy fundraising tips at your school’s next event to promote health and limit exposure to marketing.


Canada’s Food Guide

Visit Canada’s Food Guide webpage to learn more about how Marketing can influence your food choices and how to Limit your children’s exposure to marketing.

Media Smarts

Visit Media Smarts to find resources for parents on digital and media literacy. On this site, you will find various tools that can help you teach your kids about marketing

Healthy Fundraising

Fundraising Tips to Promote Health fact sheet includes tips for schools and other organizations to make fundraising healthy. 

Parenting in Ottawa

Visit Parenting in Ottawa for more information on marketing of food and beverages to children, and ways to limit exposure.

The Link Ottawa

Visit The Link Ottawa for more information for youth regarding marketing of food and beverages.


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