STRONG Kids Program Subproject: Examining Food Marketing and Promotion to Young Children in the Retail Food Store Environment


Individual and environmental factors contribute to childhood obesity. Food marketing and advertising have been identified as major determinants of family food choices and eating habits that, in turn, influence children’s weight status. Previous research has focused on television marketing to children in the home, with limited attention to the broader food and nutrition environment in which families are embedded. The current project will address the gap in understanding by evaluating food marketing targeted to low-income, young children in the community retail food store environment. The specific research questions include:

  • How is food marketed to young children in the retail food store environment?
  • Does neighborhood socioeconomic position (SEP) affect these practices?
  • How can family, store owner, and public health decision makers’ perceptions of food marketing influences on food purchasing behaviors in the community retail food store environment be used to inform interventions and public health policy?

The target population includes 400 preschool-aged children and their families residing in one of three cities in Illinois who, because of race or income, are considered to have higher-than-average risk for overweight or obesity. An audit tool developed by the investigators will record the amounts and types of food promotion directed to children in the retail food environment. They will interview parents to determine whether marketing and promotion of certain food items influence children’s requests at food stores. The researchers will explore public health officials perceptions about parents’ feeding practices. Finally, they will seek retail food store owners’ input on ways to increase advertising for more nutritious foods. This project will address a gap in understanding the broader food and nutrition environment and factors which may contribute to childhood obesity. The audit instrument developed for this project can be used to evaluate food store environments; study findings can inform interventions and public health policy aimed at high-risk populations.

Research Team


  • Illinois Transdiciplinary Obesity Prevention Program (I-TOPP) Seed Grant, 2011
  • Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR) Sentinel Program Seed Grant
  • College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois
  • Illinois Department of Human Services, Bureau of Child Care and Development
  • Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Illinois
  • Family Resiliency Center, University of Illinois
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Connections Program


Diana Grigsby-Toussaint
Principal Investigator
Phone: 217-333-9207