A meta-analysis of studies by the American Psychological Association suggests that two problems arising from advertising to children have been proven by multiple controlled trials:

  1. Change in Eating Habits - Advertising affects children’s consumption patterns and seems to be at least partly responsible for the jump in childhood obesity. The number of overweight children 6-11 years old has quadrupled from around 4% in 1963-1970 to 16% in 1999-2002. (See the diagram here.)
  2. Increase in Child Parent Conflicts - Attributed to parental refusal of purchase requests.

The APA lays out two ‘tests’ for advertising to children:

  1. Can the child distinguish commercials from the main body of the program? - Children gain this ability between 4 and 5 years of age.
  2. Can the child recognize the persuasive intent of the ad message? - Children begin to see the persuasive intent of these messages between 7 and 8 years of age.

    This would suggest that after age 8, children can distinguish commercials from programs and know that they are selling messages. The APA points out that very little work has been done to understand at what age children are equipped to evaluate these messages fairly and that this age would very likely be older than 8,



What was once the purview of a few entertainment and toy companies has been escalated into a gargantuan, multi-tentacled enterprise with a combined marketing budget estimated at over $15 billion dollars annually...about 2.5 times more than was spent in 1992. (Linn, 73 (2005)

Children's purchasing power has risen rapidly. McNeal reports that children aged four to twelve made $6.1 billion in purchases in 1989, $23.4 billion in 1997, and $30 billion in 2002, an increase of 400 percent. (Shor 97)

Older kids, aged twelve to nineteen, spend even more: they accounted for $170 billion of personal spending in 2002, or a weekly average of $101 per person. (Shor 97)

That children influence more than $600 billion in spending a year has not been lost on corporate America.... (Linn 73)


The same article contained a comment from Peter Reynolds, then CEO of the Wisconsin-based Brio Company, an American subsidiary of a Swedish Toy compan: "Parents aren't losing control, they're giving up," he stated flatly. "If your child nags you to let him play in the middle of the freeway, do you do that? The responsibility of the purchase always lies with the adult. Yeah, 72 times a day you're going to be asked: 'Can I have that toy? Can I have that toy??" But if he answer is no 72 times a day for three or four weeks, then they stop asking."

The prospect of spending a month saying no 2,160 times to a child you love is enough to drive any parent crazy. Suppose some of the child's requests are reasonable? Is your goal to cure children of asking for what they want? By encouraging children to nag, and by bombarding them with messages that material goods are the key to happiness, the marketing industry is taking advantage of parents' innate desire for their children to be happy. (Linn 93)