The data, published in a Mintel report called Marketing to Children Aged 11-16 – UK: Healthy Eating, shows that between 2003 and 2007 there were significant changes in children’s attitudes towards food: in 2003, only 71 per cent of children surveyed believed a balanced diet was important. Eighty per cent of 11-16 year-olds said in 2007 that “it is important to eat a balanced diet”.
The data suggests that children – and not just their parents – are receptive to marketing of healthy products.
However, there is some disparity between age groups. As children get older, the importance they place on a balanced diet decreases – from 81 per cent amongst 11-12 year-olds to 79 per cent amongst 15-16 year-olds. Eleven per cent more children in the older age group often eat between meals (58 per cent). And whereas 41 per cent of younger children prefer foods with no artificial additives, only 35 per cent of older children do.
Older children, with more spending power than pre-teens, and more independence from their parents, are a key demographic for food manufacturers. TGI suggests that they should be targeted through “figures they admire or identify with” rather than through parents or education as they are often reluctant to follow advice from what they see as figures of authority.
Moreover, 15-16 year-olds are the least likely to see all fast food as junk food, meaning that they may be receptive to healthy fast food. Although children tend to eat out with their parents less as they get older, it is possible that they do not regard visiting a fast food restaurant as ‘eating out’. Teenagers could be encouraged to visit fast food places which supplement or replace their ‘junk food’ with a menu of healthy products.
One in every four children aged 11-15 in the UK is overweight or obese, and food manufacturers have been criticised for marketing unhealthy food to young people.
However, it is hoped that new regulations governing targeted advertising towards children, as well as consumer group campaigns, will continue to turn the tide of overweight children.
Earlier this year the UK government launched a £362m strategy to tackle the epidemic through education and promotion of the benefits of healthy eating and exercise, which has increased awareness amongst both parents and their children.