TV Ads For Children More Unhealthy Than Those At Other Time Slots
December 18, 2013

TV Ads For Children More Unhealthy Than Those In Other Time Slots

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Anyone who grew up watching cartoons as a kid can probably remember what most of the ads that went along with their favorite shows were for: sugary cereals, soda, candy and fast food.

Now, a new study, published in the journal Childhood Obesity, has confirmed that the nutritional value of food and beverages advertised on children’s television programs is much lower than the food products advertised during general programming.

The study team, from the University of Illinois at Chicago, said they wanted to see if televised food advertisements that children were being exposed to fit the proposed voluntary nutrition guidelines recommended through a joint effort of the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children.

The guidelines aim to limit the amount of time children are exposed to ads for food high in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium, due to their potential negative health effects.

Using Nielsen TV ratings data from 2009, the UIC team looked at children’s exposure to food and beverage ads seen on both children’s and general programming. The UIC researchers looked particularly at children’s shows with a child-audience share of 35 percent or greater.

The research team also took note which ads were from food makers that vowed to promote healthier products to youngsters or to explicitly avoid airing ads targeting children, under the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). Started in 2006, the CFBAI now includes 16 companies. However, these companies also set their own nutritional criteria for foods advertised to children.

“We found that less than half of children’s exposure to ads for food and beverage products comes from children’s programming, meaning that a significant portion of exposure is not subject to self-regulation,” said study author Lisa Powell, professor of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health.

The study team also discovered that over 84 percent of food product ads seen by children between the ages 2 and 11 for all programming were for products high in fat, sugar and sodium. On children’s programming ads specifically, over 95 percent were for products high in fats, sugar and sodium.

Almost all CFBAI ads shown on children’s programming did not meet suggested federal nutrition values; over 97 percent were for food or beverages high in fat, sugar and sodium. Many foods made by CFBAI companies do meet federal nutrition guidelines. However, the study indicated that these companies have decided to more heavily promote their less-nutritional products to children.

“The self-regulatory effort has been ineffective so far,” Powell concluded.

The silver lining for public health advocates is that the CFBAI has proposed new nutrition criteria for its members beginning Dec. 31, which would replace the assorted nutrition standards made by each individual company.

Powell said her team’s study should serve as a yardstick for determining if the new criteria will raise the nutrition content of products marketed to children.