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What Influences Kids’ Food Selections

What shoppers purchase and why is always of interest to the retail industry and market researchers.

Packaging, placement and other marketing tactics have a major influence on customers, even the youngest of consumers.

But choices at the grocery store aren’t always predetermined at the place of purchase. They may actually be internally programmed long before arriving at the market.

What Influences Kids’ Food Selections

Image source: Photography by Lynon Smith

An article and webcast called Why We Overeat: The Toxic Food Environment and Obesity from Harvard’s School of Public Health discussed the food environment, which includes all aspects related to food in our daily lives.

From what we are offered at home as children and our proximity to grocery stores, there are many facets of the food environment and how it relates to lifestyle and obesity. Their inquiry provides an interesting glimpse into what surrounds our food choices and preferences.

In ongoing research, which began 2 decades ago, scientists have studied what they refer to as an obesogenic food environment. The availability of healthy and affordable foods, socioeconomic and occupational factors are all issues that are related to what children eat.

A major influence on children’s lifelong eating habits begins at home. Family lifestyle and parental modeling is a huge factor in what a child will eat, or later will chose to eat for themselves as adults.

Having healthy selections at home and regular family mealtimes included in a child’s schedule have been shown to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and in some cases may result in a healthier body mass index.

For children, eating away from home can be a time when choosing healthy may fall to the side. What parents and guardians have tried to instill may be paused when young children and adolescents make independent food selections, such as at school.

One study reported that in the 2004–2005 school year 40% of children in the U.S. public school system consumed foods from vending machines or other junk food snacks at school instead of exclusively eating the cafeteria options. Though the amounts of vending machines and sugar laden beverages in U.S. schools have been removed, reduced or given a healthier upgrade, unhealthy convenience foods are still rampantly available to children.

The Federal Trade Commission stated that numbers from 2008 found that the fast food industry spent nearly $10 billion annually around this time on marketing solely targeting children. $1.6 billion was spent on promoting beverages, fast food and cereals.

The Institute of Medicine concluded in 2005 that these types of food marketing tactics are contributors to poor diets and decreased health in children.

Though marketing may be a necessary force in the industry, it seems that the huge amount of monetary expenditures handed out for marketing and promotions aimed at unhealthy food options could have been spent wiser.

In the U.S. alone food waste is inconceivably high and billions per year are spent on marketing, yet still 15.9 million children were reported in 2012 as living with food insecurity and hunger. This is proof that the food environment and how to improve it for developing children deserves more attention.

For some go-to food ideas that are on the healthy side, check out these 100 snacks that include links to recipes.

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