The Associated Press has an article on food ads reaching young children.
Messages for high-fat, high-sugar foods permeate TV programming for preschoolers, according to new research that is adding to criticisms that food marketers are trying to hook the youngest children as lifelong customers.
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission announced plans to study links among the ads, viewing habits and the rise of childhood obesity. For now, marketing of food to children is unregulated.
Previous studies have found that kids as young as 3 who see TV ads are more likely to request and eat advertised foods high in fat, sodium and sugar.
This strikes me as a total non-issue. First of all, you cannot "hook" anyone on an item that's not addictive. You can certainly introduce them to food via advertisements, and if they try it and like it, then and only then do you have a customer. But no amount of ads or cartoon characters will make a child enjoy spinach.
Second, food tastes change. I'm sure you can think of a food you never used to eat as a child, or a food you no longer eat now.
Third, no toddler has any control over what he eats. If the parent won't provide McDonald's, the toddler won't eat McDonald's.
Finally, and most importantly, the specter raised in this article can be very easily disproved. Just offer toddlers McDonald's cheeseburgers (heavily advertised) and a typical cake, made from a cake mix and canned frosting (little advertisement). See which of these is preferred more often.