WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
March 28, 2007 -- Food companies beam an average of 21 product ads
per day at American pre-teens, most of which are for candy, snacks, soft
drinks, and fast food, concludes a report released today.
The report shows that a child aged 8-12 can be expected to view 7,600 ads
promoting food in a single year.
The report confirms growing concern from advocates and some legislators that
aggressive marketing is exposing kids to repeated messages promoting
low-nutrition food. In a report last year, the Institute of Medicine pegged
food marketing as a key contributor to rising childhood obesity rates.
Spots for candy, snacks, cereal, and fast food made up more than two-thirds
of all food ads aimed at children, the study shows. None of the nearly 9,000
ads reviewed promoted fruits or
According to the report, on a typical day the average American child aged
Walter Gantz, PhD, a University of Indiana researcher who conducted the
study, says children aged 2 to 7 view an average of 12 food advertisements a
day. "For a year, that works out to be about 4,400 ads," he says.
At the same time, public service messages promoting healthy eating or
exercise appear to young children only once every two or three days.
"Clearly there’s plenty of room for growth in this area," Gantz
Eleven large food manufacturers pledged late last year to curtail marketing
of unhealthy food during television programs. The companies said they would
move to shift half of child-targeted ads to healthy foods or healthy
Companies are moving to act voluntarily under threat of new regulations from
both Democrats and Republicans. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), says he’s watching
for companies to take substantial steps toward curtailing junk food
"If things are not working together and things are not happening, I
think you’re going to see a much stronger regulatory regime," he says.
Brownback, a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, declined to say
what specifically would need to happen to prevent him from pursuing new
Companies say the report, which took data from 2005, does not reflect recent
changes in advertising practices. "The current landscape has dramatically
changed," says Daniel Jaffee, executive vice-president of the Association
of National Advertisers.
But others are skeptical industry efforts at self-regulation will be
The voluntary pledge from manufacturers applies to half the ads on shows
targeted to children, though such shows make up only about one-third of
children’s average viewing time, says Vicky Rideout, a vice president at the
Kaiser Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on health care issues.
"We’re talking about affecting about a sixth, maybe, of the ads that
kids see," she says.
Dale Kunkel, PhD, a member of the Institute of Medicine committee on food
advertising, says industry guidelines could allow companies to portray healthy
activities without altering the quality of products they promote.
"That’s my worry. If you have the kids on skateboards eating Big Macs,
then that’s OK," says Kunkel, a communications professor at the University
The companies’ voluntary guidelines will be monitored by an industry group
called the National Advertising Review Council. C. Lee Peeler, the group’s CEO,
says the guidelines mark the first time the industry has moved to substantially
change its advertising.
"To say that self-regulation has failed when it hasn’t even started"
is unfair, he says. "I would say, give us a chance, see what we can
SOURCES: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation: "Food for Thought:
Television and Food Advertising to Children in the United States," March
28, 2007. Walter Gantz, PhD, University of Indiana. Sen. Sam Brownback
(R-Kan.). Daniel Jaffee, executive vice-president, Association of National
Advertisers. Vicky Rideout, vice president, Kaiser Foundation. Dale Kunkel,
PhD, University of Arizona. C. Lee Peeler, CEO, National Advertising Review
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