Industry bodies have slammed a call from an influential group of doctors to ban junk food advertising in children’s programming, claiming that it is based on outdated research.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement on Monday, entitled “Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media”, in which it said junk food advertising is contributing to childhood obesity, and urged a ban on junk food advertising to children and restrictions on interactive food advertising to children via digital media. The AAP represents about 60,000 physicians.
“Thirty years ago, the federal government ruled that young children are psychologically defenseless against advertising. Now, kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food,” said Dr. Victor Strasburger, the statement’s lead author and member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media.
However, industry associations including the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) have said they have made strides to reduce direct food marketing to children – and claimed that the AAP statement was based on outdated research.
Seventeen major food and beverage companies have joined the voluntary CFBAI program since it was set up in 2006, under which they have pledged to “shift the mix of advertising messaging directed at children to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthier lifestyles”.
Its vice president and director Eileen Kolish said in a statement: “Much of the American Academy of Pediatrics statement regarding an ad ban is based on old or seriously flawed data.
“…While the American Academy of Pediatrics constructively urges doctors to talk to parents about limits on screen time and TVs in bedrooms, the ad ban statement is based on studies with ad data sets that pre-date the CFBAI, that use flawed methodologies, that disregard significant product improvements or look at non-relevant measures, NOT evidence and does not support a ban.”
The GMA also said that the AAP statement does not reflect changes that the industry has made over the past few years.
“Because of the robust voluntary standards adopted by America’s largest food and beverage manufacturers, the advertising landscape looks entirely different today that it did in 2005 when most of the studies used to support the AAP position were conducted,” it said.
Nevertheless, citing two studies conducted last year, the AAP policy statement noted: “Although exposure to food ads has decreased in the past few years for young children, it has increased for adolescents.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of US children aged 2-19 are obese, and the prevalence of childhood obesity has more than tripled since 1980.
Food companies spend about $1.6bn a year marketing products to children, Federal Trade Commission figures show.