Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer Tradition Getting (Kids) Bigger Every Year

We all know the sound of the ice cream truck.  Slightly distorted songs, sometimes Christmas themed, calling children from the neighborhood to the sidewalks to stare at the colorful advertisements pasted on a white truck.  Cartoon characters and superhero shaped frozen treats entice children into begging for a couple of dollars to buy their favorite character.

Ice cream trucks make getting sweets – and gaining weight – easy and fast to get. Think about how the truck finds its customers.  It brings the store to you, even if you don’t want it, and plays a song that invites you to come and buy something. This is how the ice cream truck ensures they get customers.  Whether or not you were hungry or wanted ice cream, when you hear that music your brain screams for it.  While you may remind yourself that you are on a diet or you have dinner in an hour, children do not often have that same capacity.  They hear the truck and immediately want ice cream without thinking of the future consequences it may pose, like weight gain. In the past 30 years childhood obesity has doubled – tripling for adolescents! –due in part to the massive amount of food advertising kids see every day.   

Music isn’t the only way that ice cream trucks target kids.  Did you know that packaging can make us think that the food advertised tastes better? According to one study, 50% of children surveyed found that foods with cartoon characters on the packaging tasted better than the same product without the character.  Ice cream trucks regularly feature character-themed treats.  Additionally, the “menu” pasted on the side of the truck consists entirely of pictures, many of which promote the superhero and princess shaped ice creams, adding yet another thing to make children want the frozen treats.

Summer is a fun time with all those summer fruits and treats, family gatherings, and  outdoor activities.  Let’s enjoy it all including the traditional treats that accompany this season but let’s do it in moderation and let’s be aware of how advertising is affecting us and our family. 

To learn more about unhealthy food marketing to children and the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene’s District Public Health Office’s “We All Want Healthy Children” campaign, please visit 

This blog post was written by Caroline Dunn, a student at Silberman School of Social Work and intern at Bronx Health REACH.

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