The Surprising Ways Highly Processed Food Companies Push Their Goods On Kids

The "deceptive caring" in marketing highly processed food for kids.

kids eating strawberries Evgeny Atamanenko / shutterstock

What are highly processed foods?

Food was once a source of nutrients needed for health. But, that changed when marketers invented the concept of "kids’ food."

"Kids’ food" is not about nutrients and health — it's about fun and fantasies.

It's not grown on farms by farmers — it's manufactured in labs by food scientists. Unsurprisingly, with health out of the equation, "kids’ food" leads to the development of lifestyle diseases.


But, the link between "kids’ food" and lifestyle diseases is just the tip of the disease iceberg.

RELATED: Why So Many Parents Fail To Recognize Childhood Obesity In Their Own Kids

What are highly processed foods and how do they affect kids' minds?

Fast foods, sugary drinks, candy, and unhealthy snacks account for over 80 percent of advertising to children.

Backed by the $14 billion companies spend advertising to children and teens, marketers enlist the minds of children, instilling in them the beliefs, values, and attitudes essential to living a "kids’ food" lifestyle.

Lifestyles are learned behaviors shaped by the core beliefs, values, and attitudes of those teaching a way of living.


The economic power wielded by marketers gets them in your home, your child’s school, and other social environments.

Twenty-four/seven, your child is in the cross-hairs of marketers and with marketing everywhere, the deck is stacked against parents.

Few parents have billions of dollars to invest in neuromarketing technology, psychologist, and other resources marketers use to influence their children.

With the children’s food market worth an estimated $41.1 billion, the effectiveness of marketers' persuasive power is indisputable.

Possessing the minds of children is critical to this effectiveness. Children’s perception of "kids’ food" as nutritionally unhealthy and distinct from adult foods (e.g., vegetables and fruits).


It's difficult to refute that marketers are leading children into a diseased future. In fact, from 1999 to 2018, children and teens' consumption of ultra-processed foods increased while their intake of healthy foods decreased.

This is what deceptive caring looks like.

Marketers entice your children by emotionally deceiving them with superficial commercialized caring. 

Promising pleasure and instant gratification while also idealizing funbeing coolhappiness, and athletic ability, marketers use food advertisements to make children feel understood.

The promises fit with the goal of processing foods by finding your child’s bliss point with the right combination of salt, sugar, and fats that taste good and maximally stimulate the pleasure center of your child’s brain.


The danger here is that the brain does not discriminate whether the pleasure is from excessive sugar, crack cocaine, or exercise but the body does.

Marketing also teaches your children strategies like the "nag factor" for getting you to buy them what they want.

The pain of social comparison is another motivational strategy subtly built into advertising.

You make them feel like a complete loser by not buying them these foods. 

Clearly, beneath the thin veneer of commercial caring, a chilling indifference permeates the "kids’ food" market.

"Kids’ food" is not about your children.

Most marketers will unabashedly acknowledge operating to maximize economic gains for their own self-interest.


Ethically, this self-interest imperative has been a subject of concern especially in light of the economy’s history of exploiting children.

Accordingly, children are seen as a means to economic ends — consumers upon which the life of the economy depends.

From the marketer’s perspective, marketing "kids’ food" is just another impersonal exchange.

Every kid wants to be more than just a kid and every marketer wants some of that $41.1 billion "kids market."

"Kids' food" sabotages parents and children.

Every parent wants their children to grow up to be healthy and happy. Every child wants to be more than just a child. These are not just lofty ideals.


Striving to become something more is essential to life.

We did not evolve from living systems making less of themselves — we are the "something more" of all that came before us.

Thus, it's unsettling to see the "kids’ food" market making less of children and sabotaging the aspirations their parents have for a better future.

RELATED: 10 Easy Meals To Feed Even The Pickiest Toddler

What is the Law of "Becoming Something More"?

To become something more than just a meaningless consumer, your child must learn how to participate in, and experience the joy of life’s work.

The guidance of caring parents and other adults (e.g., teachers, coaches, extended family) is essential for any child to learn how to grow and become something more than just a child.


Whether it's at home, school, or a sports camp, a genuine caring environment has emotional benefits (i.e. develop coping skills) essential for when your child independently takes on the work of becoming something more in life.

Moreover, a caring environment cultivates hope as a motivating force — the positive belief and confidence your child needs to persevere and cope with stressful moments while striving to accomplish meaningful goals.

Thus, guided by adults committed to and caring about your child’s well-being, your child develops the autonomy needed to achieve meaningful goals and from which grows a life that is truly vital.

Autonomy literally means "self-law" and every unity, from our universe to the unity you call your body, has its self-law.


Autonomy emerges in conjunction with the knowledge acquired from experientially learning how to work together and thus synergistically enhance the wholeness of your child’s life.

The happiness parents all want for their children — and themselves — is the product of synergy. The wholeness that's greater than the sum of the quality working relationships children have with their bodies, other adults, and peers.

The knowledge of how to maintain and enhance wholeness is your child’s self-law of happiness.


Thus, it's not enough to know your child is healthy, without knowing your child possesses the autonomy and knowledge of how to maintain and enhance wholeness and experience happiness.

Repossess your child’s happiness and health.

Legislation banning advertising to children would solve the problem of marketing unhealthy foods to your children.

Sadly, despite more than 80 percent of parents in favor of banning or regulating marketing to children, policymakers have chosen a policy of inaction allowing sophisticated adult marketers to exploit naïve and inexperienced children.

Consequently, here 5 things you can do to protect your children from highly processed foods.

1. Educate your children.

Just as you teach your children not to take rides from strangers, teach them not to consume foods from the stranger marketing unhealthy foods to them.


2. Teach them about indifference awareness.

Teach your children that the adults behind "kids’ food" advertisements don't know them, don't care about them, and don't have their best interest at heart.

3. Be on guard against false promises.

Teach your children not to believe the fantasies and false promises of marketers.

4. Analyze marketing claims.

Teach your children to question everything about how consuming a product makes them "cool" or gives them superpowers.

Also cultivate your child’s awareness of how these false promises lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction, and frustration.

5. Get involved.

Join with other parents and organizations (like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood) to protect the health and well-being of children from marketers.


RELATED: 10 Unique And Fun Ideas To Get Your Kids To Eat Their Vegetables

Dr. Stephen J. Almada is a health psychologist. He developed the Mindfulness Eating Training Program and the Stronger Than Stress Training Program. For more information, visit his website or e-mail him at