Sugar, Salt & Fat: Marketing to Children

Sugar + Salt + Fat

Throughout this article I will be referring to sugar, salt and fat in the additive form. Not the naturally occurring sugar, salt and fat found in fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains.

1) Sugar ~ Added cane sugars, molasses or artificial sweeteners used to sweeten and extend product shelf life.

2) Salt ~ Added to season or improve shelf life of products.

3) Fat ~ Added trans fat to improve shelf life or excessive saturated fat to improve texture and flavour.

Note: Saturated fat in moderation can be a healthful part of ones diet. Added saturated fats include butters or coconut oil.

*Unsaturated fats such as olive oil can be a healthful addition to our diet throughout the lifespan and should be consumed more often than saturated fats. Read my post: "Your Guide to Fat and Oil Use" to find out why.

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Babies have natural preferences early in life for sweet and fatty foods, this could be due to the composition of their mothers breast milk which contains the sugar molecule lactose and a high percentage of fat to build protective tissue and keep the infant satiated (Dietitian's of Canada, 2019).


While naturally occurring sugar and fat is an important component in breast milk, fruit, whole grains, fish and other plant or animal based protein sources. Added sugars, fat and salt is not necessary for a child to experience flavour in their food and may even hinder the development of their preference for a particular food by itself without additives.


The marketing industry influences children to ask for foods containing added sugar, salt and fat early in life through a method called "associative conditioning". Pairing snack foods which contain added sugar, salt and trans or saturated fats with the infants favourite cartoon characters or games to encourage the child to ask or demand their caregivers purchase these snack foods (Heart & Stroke, 2019).




Some Facts:

61% of popular children's websites market unhealthy food and beverages (Heart & Stroke, 2019).

Over the past 70 years, consumption of processed foods in Canada has increased from 30% of the average family’s food purchases to 60% (Heart & Stroke, 2019).

77% of the sodium (salt) Canadians consume comes from processed foods sold in grocery stores and food service outlets (Heart & Stroke, 2019).

A child or teenager, watching two hours of TV per day, is likely to be exposed to 3,600 ads each year from TV alone! The foods most heavily advertised to children on specialty TV channels are fast food, candy and chocolate, cakes, cookies and ice cream (Heart & Stroke, 2019).




How can we fight back against the food industry?

Good news, we can use "associative conditioning" with healthy foods as well! Either by creating fun shapes or designs out of healthy food or pairing a healthy food the child already enjoys with a food item you would like to introduce.

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Most infants need exposure to food 10 to 15 times before developing a preference for it (Dietitian's of Canada, 2019). The starchy flavour in vegetables can be especially hard to develop a preference for in infants. That being said, creating a relaxed environment will help your infant or child feel they have control over their choices to try new foods.


A study by UConn Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity found 4 out of 80 baby & toddler snacks met nutrition standards for early life development.

-50% of baby snacks contained added sweeteners

(Anzman-Frasca et al, 2017).

-83% of toddler snacks contained added sweeteners (Anzman-Frasca et al, 2017).

A journal of public policy and marketing from Cornwell and Mcalister found children begin to understand persuasion at 3 years of age.

You would think with all this research marketing to children would be banned or at least monitored...

But did you know Canada is one of the only countries still allowing junk food marketing to children?!

Help restrict marketing to children here!



Children who consume more foods high in added sugar, salt and trans or saturated fats tend to become dependant on these foods throughout the lifespan (Heart & Stroke, 2019).


Increased sugar, salt and fat intake through the lifespan has been linked with chronic disease development such as: diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis and some dental diseases (Heart & Stroke, 2019).

With all of this being said...A common concern stressed by parents at the centre is whether they should restrict all junk foods in their infant or child's diet. This is a tricky situation because often when a child is told they cannot have something it makes them want it more, and if mom, dad, siblings or a care giver are enjoying those restricted foods infront of the child it may be confusing for them.


Additionally, if the person consuming those foods hides from the child while eating, the child will likely catch on eventually and either want the food more as they now view it as a game of hide and seek or feel shame for not being able to enjoy certain foods everyone else has the allowance to enjoy.


So how can we find a happy balance?


Here are my tips for limiting your infant or child's excess sugar, salt or fat intake while still allowing treats in moderation:

1) Avoid the term "low fat" in prepared foods given to your infant or child.

These products usually contain excess sugar to work as a coagulant making up for lost texture from fats.

Dietitian's of Canada recommends ages 2-18 have no more than 6 tsp of added sugar a day equivalent to 25g (Dietitian's of Canada, 2019).

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For example, a low fat flavoured yogurt may contain as much as 20g of sugar. Purchasing plain 2% fat yogurt and adding fresh fruit allows for healthy fats for satiation, less sugar and increased fibre and nutrients from whole fruit.

2) Prepare meals from home as much as possible.

Batch cooking granola bars or muffins, chopping up fresh fruit and vegetables, batch cooking whole grain pasta, beans or lentils on one day of the week can allow for saved time spent preparing meals throughout the week and increase the likelihood of making healthier choices for the entire family.

Additionally, preparing baked goods or meals from home can reduce sugar, salt and fat content in comparison to purchasing ready prepared food.

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3) Involve your kids in the process.

Simply allowing your toddlers and children to be part of the cooking process by having them to stir or measure your ingredients can increase their likelihood of trying new foods, develop kitchen skills from a young age, increase bonding time and limit time spent in front of the TV with exposure to junk food marketing advertisements.


4) Don't let food marketing dictate your knowledge around the products you are buying.

Read the nutrition label and ingredients to understand how much sugar, salt and fat is in the product you are purchasing.

The standards for being able to call your product "low sugar", "high fiber", "natural" and more are very vague and will likely mislead you.

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Jenessa Clark