Children's Ads Provide Junk Food for
October 6th, 2008
In a child’s buffet of food commercials, more than 40
percent of the dishes are candy, snacks and fast food.
Nowhere to be found: fresh fruit, vegetables, poultry or
For years, health officials have warned that kids were
being inundated with commercials about not-so-healthy
foods. Now, researchers have put numbers to those
warnings in the largest-ever study of commercials aimed
“The vast majority of the foods that kids see advertised
on television today are for products that nutritionists
would tell us they need to be eating less of, not more
of, if we’re going to get a handle on childhood
obesity,” said Vicky Rideout of the Kaiser Family
Foundation, which conducts health research.
Overall, the foundation’s researchers monitored 13
television networks. The viewing took place primarily
between late May and early September 2005. They saw
2,613 ads featuring food and drinks that targeted
children and teens.
Children ages 8-12 see the most food ads on TV — an
average of 21 a day, or 7,600 a year. Teenagers see
slightly fewer — 17 a day, or about 6,000 a year; and
children ages 2-7 see the fewest — 12 a day or 4,400 a
“Since (preteens) are at an age where they’re just
becoming independent consumers, understanding what type
of advertising they are exposed to is especially
important,” Rideout said.
Of food ads that targeted children, 34 percent were for
candy and snacks, 29 percent for cereal, 10 percent for
beverages, 10 percent for fast food, 4 percent for dairy
products, 4 percent for prepared food and the rest for
breads and pastries and dine-in restaurants.
In December 2005, the Institute of Medicine concluded
that marketing practices from the food and beverage
industry are out of balance with recommended diets for
children and contribute to an environment that puts
children’s health at risk.
The institute recommended that companies shift their
advertising to emphasize food and drink that are
substantially lower in calories, fats, salt and sugars.
Major food and drink makers, including companies such as
McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., recently
agreed to adopt new voluntary rules for advertising. The
companies said they would devote at least half their
advertising directed to children to promote healthier
diets and lifestyles.
The rules have not gone into effect yet. However,
researchers believe that the study released Wednesday
will serve as an important benchmark that will help
determine whether the voluntary guidelines lead to any
significant changes in advertising content.
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center
for Science in the Public Interest, said the federal
government should take a more active role in regulating
the content of television ads aimed at children.
“The industry is not as serious about self-regulation as
they say they are,” Wootan said.
But business leaders asked for patience.
“Give us a chance to see what we can do,” said C. Lee
Peeler, president and CEO of the National Advertising
Review Council, an organization that promotes truth in
advertising through voluntary regulation.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he would prefer
self-regulation by the advertisers. He said that
intervention by the federal government would actually
delay the changes in ad content that so many seek.
That’s because legislation would lead to opposition from
various interest groups as well as potential court
Advertisers also stressed that the content of food ads
has already begun to change, with more ads promoting
healthy foods and exercise than during 2005.
Sen. Tom. Harkin, D-Iowa, said he hoped the study would
also prove helpful to a new Federal Communications
Commission task force examining the impact of the media
on childhood obesity rates.
“We now have data that conclusively shows kids are
seeing an overwhelming number of ads for unhealthy food
on all types of TV shows,” Harkin said. “The ‘childhood
obesity epidemic’ isn’t just a catch phrase. It’s a real
public health crisis.”
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