TV ads for kids still heavy on unhealthy foods

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TV ads for kids still heavy on unhealthy foods

Even though kids’ total exposure to television pitches for foods high in fat, sugar, and/or salt has declined substantially in recent years, such ads are still the overwhelming majority of advertising that reaches children.
Although childrens’ total exposure to television pitches for foods high in fat, sugar, and/or salt has declined substantially in recent years, such ads still make up the overwhelming majority of advertising aimed at kids, researchers said.
From 2003 to 2009, children’s exposure to ads for unhealthy foods dropped by about one-third, reported Lisa M. Powell, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues, yet 86% of ads seen by children in 2009 were for such products, down only slightly from 94% in 2003.
In their study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the researchers also noted that ads for fast-food chains had risen during the period, at least partly offsetting what they termed “promising reductions” in advertising for specific high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt foods.
The bottom line is that you may want to keep your kids away from TV ads, especially on Saturday mornings. There are several ways to do this: (1) keep the turned off, and/or (2) consider at DVR which will allow the kids to watch the show, but not the commercials.
Here are more details in a report from MedPage Today:
Powell and colleagues said it would be important to persuade fast-food companies to join the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a self-policing program in the food industry that they said had made strides in making products for children healthier and in advertising unhealthy ones less heavily.
Getting fast-food companies on board could help “stem the growing barrage of fast-food ads seen by children,” Powell and colleagues wrote.
The researchers obtained TV ratings data for odd-numbered years from 2003 to 2009 from the Nielsen organization, including information on programs and advertisements watched by 2- to 5-year-olds and by 6- to 11-year-olds.
These data were used to calculate the average number of ads per day seen by a child in these age groups, in five major categories of foods (drinks, cereals, snacks, sweets, and “other”) overall and for products high in fat, sugar, or sodium.
Powell and colleagues also calculated nutritional content of the advertised foods. Foods were classed as high in saturated fat if more than 10% of calories were from saturated fat (exempting nuts, seeds, and nut butters).
High-sodium foods were those with more than 200 mg of sodium per 50-g serving, and foods were considered high in sugar if more than 25% of calories were from sugar (exempting whole fruits, 100% fruit juices, and milk).
In virtually every category, kids’ total exposure to ads for unhealthy foods dropped substantially.
Younger children saw 37.9% fewer ads for foods high in fat, sugar, or salt during the study period, including declines of 47.1% in ads for high-fat products.
Exposure in the 2 to 5 age group to ads for sugary drinks fell by nearly 60% and for sugary cereals by 35%, the researchers found.
The declines were less pronounced for older children, who saw 21.7% less advertising for unhealthy foods.
But both age groups had steep increases in their exposure to fast-food ads — up 21.1% in 2- to 5-year-olds and 30.8% among those ages 6 to 11.
Powell and colleagues also examined advertising by the CFBAI’s 16 member companies as of 2009. These included many of the big names in packaged foods: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Hershey, and Unilever. Burger King and McDonald’s also belong.
Several CFBAI members have promised not to advertise any food products on children’s programming and the rest have pledged that their children’s advertising will emphasize “better-for-you” foods, the researchers explained.
But other fast-food companies, such as the Yum! Brands family that includes Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, have not joined the program.
CFBAI members account for most food-related ads seen by children in 2009 — 6.7 ads per day for the average 2- to 5-year-old and 7.9 per day for older children versus 4.2 and 4.8 per day, respectively from non-CFBAI companies.
But non-CFBAI members accounted for more than half of fast-food advertising seen by children, and ads by those companies also accounted for most of the increase during the study period.
Powell and colleagues did not calculate the nutritional content of advertised fast foods, but they found these trends worrisome nonetheless.
They cited other research showing that fast foods advertised to children tend to be unhealthy and that fast-food advertising appears related to children’s body weight over time.
Powell and colleagues did find some good news in the study. Fiber content of cereals featured in ads seen by children nearly doubled over the study’s seven-year span, they reported. Also, the average percentage of calories from saturated fat in advertised products declined in most categories.

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