Marketing unhealthy foods negatively impacts children’s food preferences, dietary habits and health, prompting calls for regulations that will help to create an “enabling” food environment for children. One powerful food marketing technique is product packaging, but little is known about the nature or quality of child-targeted food products over time. This study assesses how child-targeted supermarket foods in Canada have transformed with respect to nutritional profile and types of marketing appeals (that is, the power of such marketing). Products from 2009 (n
= 354) and from 2017 (n
= 374) were first evaluated and compared in light of two established nutritional criteria, and then compared in terms of marketing techniques on packages. Overall, child-targeted supermarket foods did not improve nutritionally over time: 88% of child-targeted products (across both datasets) would not be permitted to be marketed to children, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) criteria, and sugar levels remained consistently high. Despite this poor nutritional quality, the use of nutrition claims increased significantly over time, as did the use of cartoon characters and appealing fonts to attract children’s attention. Character licensing—using characters from entertainment companies—remained consistent. The findings reveal the critical need to consider packaging as part of the strategy for protecting children from unhealthy food marketing. Given the poor nutritional quality and appealing nature of child-oriented supermarket foods, food product packaging needs to be included in the WHO’s call to improve the restrictions on unhealthy food marketing to children.
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