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Special Edition: Kids' Food

Kids’ TV food commercials down, but cross-promotions soar

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 26-Feb-2010

Cross-promotions on food packaging targeted at children increased by 78 percent between 2006 and 2008, according to a study from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy.

In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, “aimed at shifting the mix of advertising messaging directed to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles” – including reducing the use of licensed third-party characters to promote unhealthy foods to children.

Researchers assessed 397 products that used cross-promotions – such as use of third-party licensed characters, as well as tie-ins with other television shows and movies, athletes, sports teams and events, theme parks, toys and games, and charities. They found that over the three years the number of products using youth-oriented cross-promotions nearly doubled. The researchers raised concern that progress in one area could lead to decline in another.

The study said that only 18 percent of foods examined met accepted nutrition standards for foods marketed to children, as based on Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools – and it singles out manufacturers associated with the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative as being responsible for 65 percent of youth-oriented cross-promotions.

No one from CBBB responded to a request for comment prior to publishing.

The authors concluded: “Many consider this initial focus on industry self-regulation to be a trial period to ascertain the industry’s true commitment to improve public health. A continued absence of real progress in the marketing environment is likely to reinforce support for more direct interventions, including government regulations to enforce reductions in unhealthy food marketing to youth.”

Britain’s approach

The UK has already implemented regulations governing advertising to children. The nation's advertising watchdog, the Office of Communications (Ofcom), has implemented a total ban on high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) food and drink commercials of particular appeal to children under the age of 16, broadcast at any time of day or night on any network.

Restrictions are targeted at food and drink products rated as HFSS according to the Nutrient Profiling scheme developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Food or drink products which are below FSA thresholds may be advertised without scheduling restrictions, providing an incentive for some manufacturers to reformulate existing products as well as to develop new products which are low in fat, salt and sugar.

However, like the US, the regulation does not apply to non-broadcast advertising to children, a situation that campaigning organization Sustain has been pushing to change.

Source: Public Health Nutrition


13(3), 409–417


“Marketing foods to children and adolescents: licensed characters and other promotions on packaged foods in the supermarket”


Authors: Jennifer L Harris, Marlene B Schwartz and Kelly D Brownell.

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