Aggressive marketing tactics by the food industry can have an impact on your health

What you need to know about marketing strategies used to advertise unhealthy foods

My Body, My Health: My Wealth team
UNICEF South Africa/2019/Hearfield
03 April 2023
The food industry has many creatives tactics to get into your head, your wallet and…your body.

The marketing strategies used to advertise unhealthy foods are anything but simple but are often quite effective at influencing your food choices. The food industry uses tactics like tracking your digital footprint, pushing out ads on social media just when you might be hungry, offering better prices for larger portions, and even using fancy and flashy packaging to make the food look more attractive.

Do you ever notice that the food being advertised on billboards or social media pop-ups never looks the same as when you buy it? You guessed it, the industry uses photoshop and photo editing techniques to make the product look better than it really is.

These marketing strategies can be harmful, as they often aren’t entirely honest about telling consumers, particularly young consumers, what’s really in the food they are eating.

In some countries around the world, warning labels are placed on foods to clearly inform the consumer that a product is high in concerning nutrients like sugar, salt or saturated fats. This system of labelling is called “front-of-package labelling,”(FOPL) and can be much easier to understand compared with the traditional nutritional labels on the side or back of food packages.

A growing body of evidence around FOPL showcases that this easy-to-read labelling system can have a positive impact on health outcomes, particularly for children. In Mexico, for example, 74% of people surveyed said that they approved of the warning label, and 72% said it was easy to understand and useful for making decisions about which products to purchase. The warning label for sugars was most influential.*

The good news? South Africa’s Department of Health published draft regulations on 31 January 2023 that include front-of-package warning labels on pre-packaged food items. The draft regulations propose that these warning labels are to be mandatory by 2025.

*Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria. A un año de su implementación, el etiquetado frontal de advertencia ha traído cambios positivos indiscutibles en México. Mexico City, Mexico; 2021. As referred to in the 2021 UNICEF Policy Brief: Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling of Foods and Beverages.


Read more:

Draft Regulations to make food warning labels mandatory by 2025

Fast Food Marketing Strategies

Check out this project and download the report:

Marketing Exposed: A Global Public Health Threat for Food Policy, by the Global Health Advocacy Incubator

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The UNICEF South Africa Blog promotes children’s rights and well-being, and ideas about ways to improve their lives and the lives of their families. We bring you insights and opinions from the world's leading child rights experts and accounts from UNICEF's staff on the ground in more than 190 countries and territories. The opinions expressed on the UNICEF Blog are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect UNICEF's official position.

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