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How Junk Food Marketing is Fuelling Childhood Obesity

With children exposed to more media outlets than ever – from the family television set right down to mobile devices in their hands – we’re seeing the growing health crisis fuelled by junk food advertising targeting kids.

On average, 5 to 8-year-old Aussie children consume nearly 830 junk food ads every year – and that’s on TV alone. To make matters worse, one study found half of the advertising slots during children’s TV shows to be dedicated to food marketing – none of which included fresh fruit and veggie ads.

With the ever-growing use of social media, we see another avenue for junk food marketers to reach children. 15-year-olds spend around 2 hours online after school, with that number only rising as teens get older. This puts these kids at higher risk for unhealthy ad exposure, especially when considering the use of “advergames” on Instagram and Facebook is a popular tactic, where participants actively engage in a game loaded with marketing content with one goal: to drive sales.

TikTok is another platform used by junk food marketers to reach children, with a recent spate of challengesfrom companies like McDonald's, Pepsi and Burger King encouraging TikTokers to post creative videos, in exchange for a discounted burger in the case of Burger King. 

Advertising is specifically targeting children as though they have the capacity to buy the products themselves. But it’s not because they think these kids are loaded – they understand the magic of “pester power”. Simply put, this is when kids “pester” their parents or carers to buy products – usually after being inundated with marketing material to get them hooked – and many parents relent just to get some peace. But with something as high-risk as sugar-laden foods, the long-term dangers can be far more serious than toys or clothes.

You’ve probably heard the many studies showing people who watch television are more likely to experience obesity. But contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about it being a sedentary activity – studies show junk food marketing plays a major role in this too. Pair this with the fact that 4 to 6-year-olds reportedly think foods with a cartoon character on the box taste better, and are more likely to ask for these products as a result, we see an alarming consequence of children getting hooked on sugary foods. Read on to find out how and why this is dangerous.

The problem with sugar.

Childhood obesity is at an all-time high, with 1 in 6 Aussie kids living with this condition, and we know for a fact that targeted junk food marketing campaigns bear some of the blame. So, how does this happen? It’s pretty simple – when the body consumes sugar, especially fructose, in excess, it leads to the build up of visceral fat. This is the worst kind of fat – that which wraps around the organs and can lead to a number of these conditions:

  1. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  2. Obesity.
  3. Heart disease.
  4. Diabetes.
  5. Inflammation.
  6. Autoimmune diseases.

It can even cause mental health conditions like anxiety and depression due to the havoc sugar can wreak on our hormones, with one study finding the incidence of depression to be higher in those who consumed more sugar. Another shows that people who drank 2 sugary soft drinks a day had cortisol levels 22% higher than those who did not, indicating a link between sugar and stress hormone production.

So, just stop eating junk food, right? Well, it’s not that simple. Excessive sugar intake can have long-term consequences like leptin resistance. Leptin is the hormone that signals satiety to the brain, and without this, many are left unable to suppress their appetite.  

Even more concerning, is the addictive cycle that sugar consumption can create. It starts when dopamine is released in the brain in response to the sugar, triggering the reward system – which has been found to evoke a stronger reward response than drugs like cocaine. Many get caught up in a cycle of dopamine-seeking behaviour, and children have less power to fight it, considering their prefrontal cortex hasn’t fully developed yet. This means their impulse control is far more inhibited than that of adults.

That’s why here at I Quit Sugar, we opt for moderation, along with creating delicious and creative meals that the kids love too.

Craving a sweet fix? Try this instead.

This recipe is tasty, nutritious and they won’t spike your blood sugar – but it will satisfy any sweet tooth. Swap those sugary breakfast cereals out for this sugar-free rendition of cocoa pops. It’s the perfect way to engender healthy eating habits in kids – without boring them to bits. 

This recipe comes straight from the classic I Quit Sugar Kids Cookbook.

Sugar-Free Cacao Pops.


  1. ½ cup of cacao butter, melted.
  2. 1 cup of coconut oil, melted.
  3. ¼ cup of rice malt syrup.
  4. ¼ cup of desiccated coconut.
  5. A pinch of sea salt.
  6. ½ a teaspoon of vanilla powder or essence, optional.


  1. 5 cups of brown puffed rice with amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa or a mixture of all.


  1. Line a tray with baking paper.
  2. Make the chocolate base by combining cacao butter, coconut oil, rice malt syrup, cacao powder, desiccated coconut, sea salt and vanilla powder.
  3. Pour the chocolate base over the dry grains in a bowl and stir well.
  4. Pour the mixture onto a tray to set, store in the fridge.
  5. Serve with milk of your choice and a handful of berries.

Check out the I Quit Sugar Kids Cookbook eBook for more low-sugar, high-taste recipes.

If you’re keen to kick your sugar habits to the curb, join us for our 8-Week Program. You’ll have access to community forums and support from our team of experts to make your health goals a reality. Plus, with meal plans and recipes prepared for you, there’s never been a better time to ditch sugar. Sign up HERE!

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