Marketing to children, is it ethical for business to do that?

It has been proven that food manufacturers are paying more and more money on marketing to children. The colourful and playful advertisements and packages are alluring children to buy more foods, especially junk foods. In the report of Vic health departments, “intensive children advertisements” has been concluded as one factor which contribute to the epidemic of children obesity.

Should business continue doing this? Is it ethical for them to do that?


Hi @Amberlei, welcome to the community and your contribution.

Just wondering if children buy the foods, or it is there parents.

Parents may also be swayed by pester power (from children), the same product marketing/advertising and the FOMO (fear of missing out) for their children. The later is particularly the case if they see other parents offering such food to their children. …and then think so that their own child doesn’t miss out, either

  • cave into the pestering pressure imposed by their own child or
  • buying it so that their own child is not seen as being different (eating carrot or celery sticks instead of a packet of chips).

Parents also need to be accountable for their children’s diet, especially where the parents make the food purchase decisions for their children. They also need to be strong willed and do things that are in the best interests of their child rather than doing things which are ‘easiest’ or remove any possible conflict.

We have our own child which we talk about food, about its nutritional value and also try and make food interesting (through using different flavours, fresh ingredients and encouraging involvement in the preparation and cooking process). It isn’t hard to do, but has terrific rewards.

Also children learn behaviours from their parents…if a parent says a particular food is ‘disgusting’, then a child will also think the food is disgusting …likewise if a parent has a poor diet, then the child doesn’t know any better and assumes the poor diet is a norm.

Food for thought.


Hi phb, thank you so much for your reply. This is a very innovative way to look at the problem.

I agree that parents are the ones who actually pay for the foods, but I do wonder whether you think businesses are not responsible for the pestering pressure or the FOMO? Should parents or businesses be responsible for children’s increasing consumption of unhealthy foods? Because personally I feel like parents only receive these pressures if their children get access to these ads.

By the way, I am a student of University of Melbourne. I am doing a research essay about unethical marketing to children in food industry. It would be my biggest pleasure if I can give a quick email interview you about related issues. I could not privately reach to you through this website. If you will, please leave a way for me to contact you. Thank you!


It depends on how you view child rearing, is it strictly up to the parents or does the broader society have a role to play too. If society should stay right out of it (as some people fervently believe) then it is up to the parents what TV children see and what they eat, if they feast on Maccas 5 nights a week and collect all the toys.

That is not my view. I think parents need a bit of help and encouragement to do the right thing with children’s diets. It’s better for the children now and for future generations. Society has a valid interest in helping its members to be healthy from the points of view of collective wellbeing and saving the public purse. Education of parents and their children about proper diet is only one component of this.

In my view the present light touch on limits to TV advertising and voluntary industry codes of practice are inadequate sops to the healthy eating lobby of medical professionals and others. It isn’t just TV advertising but labelling that is poorly regulated or not at all. The health star system is being seriously gamed by manufacturers and government has done nothing effective about it. The same makers double down by aiming ad campaigns for their sugary, salty, fatty food and sugary drinks at children.

So no it isn’t ethical for food manufacturers to target children with poor fare nor to push such products using all the power of modern media. Nor is it ethical to sell by misdirection, such as “Iron man food” that is 36% sugar. Nor is it ethical for governments to acquiesce to their wishes behind the cloak of free trade or freedom of choice or just plain inertia. Not when the campaigns actually do their best to remove choice and capture the young.

Whether Ignatius said it or not the motto “Give me the boy until he is seven and I will give you the man” is alive and practiced by the Australian food industry. They have of course brought it up to date and removed the gender bias to include girls.


Hi @Amberlei,

I’d suggest the ethics of most advertising is questionable. Products and marketing target every age group. For children these include much more than edible products. Eg toys and fashion and devices/games are also big earners.

We’ve been responsible for three young Australians from conception to adult freedom. The purchasing power and decision making seemed to be in adult hands. The same could be said for the standards set in each family, (ethics).

I was wondering how Vic Health made the connection.
Is it the marketing that is questionable or is it the products?
Are there parental behaviours that are also important?


Do you have a link to the report do members can review before making comments?

Is this the one?

This report makes the comment that:

The excessive consumption of unhealthy foods is likely due to
a combination of food system factors, such as the increased
availability and ease of access to unhealthy foods; environmental
factors such as low income and time pressures; and individual
behaviour (VicHealth 2017).


The NOURISHING framework
highlights the importance of changing the food environment,
including nutrition labelling standards; healthy food standards in
public institutions; and economic approaches, such as food taxes
or subsidies, restrictions on food advertising, and reformulation
initiatives to improve the quality of food (VicHealth 2017).


I searched again and it seems like this is the one.

Marketing of energy-dense foods and drinks has increased.

I concern about children obesity and I do feel like the increasing children obesity has a positive correlation with the increasing food ads. Though I need to do more research about this to prove this correlation.


Our emotional condition and measured scientific observation in the one essay sounds very engaging.
Hopefully you are well prepared to consider ‘spurious relationships’ and ‘correlation vs causation’.

Happy studies. :slightly_smiling_face:


Lacking any data I am untrammelled and able to speculate to my heart’s content. My suspicion is that advertising is but one part of a complex situation and that its statistical explanatory value will be there but not be very large. As for establishing causation - good luck.

I feel more confident that the hard heads of the industry do not pay for expensive media exposure over the long term to get no result. I take it as a given that it sells product. How obese the targets would be without those particular sales is a harder question. I haven’t seen such claims but I would expect industry speakers to say that their ads are not intended to increase overall sales but competing between themselves for market share. That was the tobacco industry defence regarding advertising was it not?

Even if it turns out that ads are not the only cause or even a specially significant one that doesn’t make it ethical to encourage people to do something we know is harmful.


The food industry is no better than most others.


I agree and even the Victoria Health paper indicates a number of likely causes of childhood obesity.

What advertising can do is muddy the waters in relation to what the product’s health is…noting even some ‘healthy’ foods are unhealthy he if consumed in excess. Star ratings were supposed to help fix this problem, but it has been proven to have limited benefit and potentially of interest to thise already conscious of food quality and ‘health’. I have suggested for a while that Australia needs to adopt labelling like that used in Chile, which is bold, easy to understand and unavoidable in its messaging.

There is the argument of taxes, but this only penalises those who try and eat right…with the infrequent treat food.

Education has proven to have limited effectiveness by itself.

Parents need to take on more responsibility for what they buy ahd provide to their children. Children can’t make such decisions themselves and most relybon their parents to we hatvus on the dinner plate, in the pantry/fridge or what eat out food is consumed. Fast or junk foods aren’t necessarily the easiest option, as cooking at home can be quicker, easier and more convenient,


The food industry seems to be as amoral as the tobacco industry. In America they convinced the legislators that sugar wasn’t the culprit, fat was, so they could continue selling their sweetened products.

Due to legislation and subsidies pushed for by the food industry, in Mexico and south it is cheaper to buy bottles of soft-drink than it is to buy bottles of water. Schools are given free softdrink for the students who become hooked for life. The consequent chronic illness and tooth decay is left untreated.

In Australia, the Food Industry seems equally morally untroubled with blocking information about healthy/unhealthy choices for consumers as evidenced by their strong opposition to the food star sytem. Exaserbating the problem is the fact that ANZFA is as emeshed with the industry as the financial industry regulaters were in theirs. Therefore ANZFA do more to represent the industry than the consumers.

Where does that leave us? The food industry segregating consumbers into finer segments that they can target with specifically enticing marketting. They seem to ignore any consequenses of their actions.

Should business continue to do this? Hell no, but these businesses have no morals so they won’t stop until forced to by legislation. Our legislators have proven that they aren’t going to do anything to get in the way of the food industry, so the only way is if there is a massive public outcry to stop it. Will this happen? No, because too many adults are hooked on sweetend drinks and junk food, and won’t want to give it up.

Will pointing out that that the junk food is leading to childhood obesity make any difference? No because we have already know that for some time. Has anything been done about it? NO.

So how do you stop this? Stop political donations from indsutries like these. Then the politicians may regain some sense of perspective and actually consider doing something about childhood obesity.


So far so good, but considering the range of lobbies each with their own special interests as amoral as the next, with a few exceptions, it might take stopping political donations for pollies to find (not regain) perspective they should be addressing issues fairly using evidence not favouritism, but then we would have to fund their campaigns from taxes. What is the electorate’s will for that? Funding misrepresentation, spin, and sometimes outright lies, so subject matter would then need to be addressed - would our pollies ever agree to being held accountable?


It appears the answer is a resounding NO! The LNP are fighting tooth and nail to prevent any form of independent oversight while declaring that they support it.


It is what it is advertisers do every trick in the book to get you to buy there product.It’s clever Kids adults whoever.I think when it comes to children parents need to be wary of that and teach them good habits not bad when it comes to food