Finds Food Is Top Product Advertised to Kids
By Sally Squires
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 28, 2007; 9:30 AM
Sex and violence are what many parents fear their
children will consume too much of on television. But a
new study finds that food is the top product served up
to kids and teens on screen.
Released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the
study is the largest ever conducted of television food
marketing to children and teens.
It finds that "food is the number one product advertised
to kids, followed by media such as music, video games
and movies," said Vicky Rideout, vice president of the
Kaiser Family Foundation's Program for the Study of
Entertainment Media and Health. Rideout directed the
study, which was conducted by Indiana University.
The study found that more than a third of commercials
targeting children or adolescents are for candy and
snacks--often high-fat, sugary foods that are likely to
fuel the on-going childhood obesity epidemic.
Children eight to 12 years old watch the most food
commercials, averaging 21 ads daily, according to the
findings. That adds up to 7,600 per year, or nearly 51
hours annually. Teens, 13 to 17 years of age, see 17
food ads daily, or more than 6,000 per year, while
youngsters two to seven years of age view 12 foods ads
per day, or 4,400 yearly.
"The study is really important," says Margo Wootan,
director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the
Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group. "It's the
first time in over a decade that anybody has looked at
television advertising aimed at children. And it's the
first time ever that anyone has looked at such a huge
sample of ads."
To conduct the study, researchers analyzed more than
1,600 hours of television programming broadcast from
late May to mid July in 2005, with additional sampling
in September of that year. The team examined 30 times
more television programming than has been included in
previous studies. Unlike previous studies, it also went
beyond traditional children's programming to include
viewing times when ratings show children and teens are
likely to be watching television.
Half of all the ads shown during children's shows are
for food. Of all the ads in the study, 34 percent
marketed candy and snacks, 28 percent were for cereal
and 10 percent promoted fast foods.
By comparison, none of the commercials in the study
promoted fruit or vegetables. Only four percent
advertised dairy products--a rich source of calcium,
which most children fall short in consuming, according
to the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
"Data like this is always useful," said C. Lee Peeler,
CEO of the National Advertising Review Council and head
of a new food industry initiative on marketing to
children. "The thing that is most interesting and useful
is that it will allow trends to be established."
One thing to keep in mind, Peeler said, is that the
report was conducted on television shown in 2005. "A lot
has changed since then," he said.
Some companies, including Disney and Kraft, have begun
new efforts to promote more active lifestyles and
healthier food to children. In November, the National
Advertising Council started a new food and beverage
initiative aimed at children. The 11 companies
participating in that effort represent two thirds of the
products sold to children, Peeler said. Participants
pledge that at least 50 percent of ads directed to
children younger than 12 will be devoted either to
"healthier products or healthier lifestyle messaging."
Last month, the Robert Wood Johnson foundation also
announced formation of the Coalition for the Health of
Children, a joint effort of the Ad Council, the American
Heart Association, the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services and Dreamworks Anmation SKG. This
initiative plans to use the popular characters from the
animated movie Shrek to deliver healthier eating and
physical activity messages to kids.
But others say those measures are not enough to halt the
childhood obesity epidemic. The latest statistics
suggest that if rates of overweight and obese children
continue to soar, today's youngsters could be the first
in generations to have a shorter life expectancy than
their parents, due to weight-related chronic illnesses
such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and
premature heart disease.
"Almost all the food marketed to kids is of poor
nutritional value," Wootan said. "Most of the ads are
for candy, soft drinks and fast foods. They didn't find
any fruit and vegetables ads. It's certainly up to
parents to feed their kids a healthy diet. But getting
kids to eat a lot more healthfully would be a lot easier
if parents didn't have to contend with $12 billion of
junk food advertising every year."
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