Kids seeing fewer food and beverage ads on TV, survey finds

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

The number of food and beverage advertisements on children’s programming fell by 50 percent from 2004 to 2010, according to a new poll sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

The research was conducted by Georgetown Economic Services (GES) on behalf of the GMA and the Association of National Advertisers. The GMA attributes many of the changes in advertising on children’s programming to a voluntary scheme established in 2006 by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).

The initiative has 17 members, including some of the nation’s biggest food and beverage manufacturers, and has the stated aim of “shifting the mix of advertising messaging directed to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles”.

In addition to a reduction in the overall number of food advertisements on children’s programming, the GES research also found a shift in the type of products being advertised.

GMA president and CEO Pamela Bailey said: “In recent years, food and beverage companies have adopted strict nutrition standards that have fundamentally changed the advertising landscape. Since 2005, there has been a significant decrease in overall food and beverage advertising on children’s programs, coupled with a dramatic increase in ads featuring healthier product choices and healthy lifestyle messages. These changes would not have taken place without the leadership and commitment demonstrated by America’s food and beverage companies.”

In particular, the research found that advertisements for cookies on children’s programming declined 99 percent; for gum and mints by nearly 100 percent; candy by 68 percent; frozen and refrigerated pizza by 95 percent; and for soft drinks by 96 percent. Meanwhile, advertisements for fruit and vegetable juices increased 199 percent.

However, there is controversy about whether voluntary advertising standards are sufficient to prevent advertising for less healthy products from being targeted at children. A recent study from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy found that even though the number of kids’ TV food commercials has fallen, cross-promotions on food packaging targeted at children increased by 78 percent between 2006 and 2008. Cross-promotions include 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.

Meanwhile, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has long argued for stricter standards for food manufacturers marketing their products to children.

Director of nutrition policy at CSPI Margo Wootan said last week: “Companies’ policies aren’t making enough of a difference.”

She was speaking in response to a newly proposed set of voluntary guidelines for industry issued by the Federal Trade Commission, intended to promote healthy choices for children.

However, president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers Bob Liodice claims that food manufacturers have made significant changes in their advertising to children.

“The advertising community has actively responded to the obesity challenge in the United States and this study once again confirms that food and beverage advertising directed to children under 12 has trended significantly downwards,”​ he said. “In addition, food options that provide low-fat, low-sodium and low-calorie choices have dramatically increased.”

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Author response

Posted by Caroline Scott-Thomas,

Thank you for your comment.
The reason why Leodice is quoted is because he is president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, one of the organizations that sponsored the research. The 'substantiation' for his comments that you are looking for is earlier in the article, in the research results themselves.
Wootan is quoted because of her position at CSPI which has long argued for stricter advertising standards, something we have covered in great detail on this website. If you would like to know more about how the CSPI backs its views I would encourage you to either use FoodNavigator-USA's search engine, or visit CSPI's website.
How much is 'enough' when it comes to food makers making a difference is pretty hard to quantify though...
My point in including both views was to highlight the fact that there is a debate going on here, just as there is a debate about how much of the current childhood obesity problem is the responsibility of food companies, how much is - as you suggest - due to lack of exercise, and how much is up to parents' food and nutrition choices.
I hope this answers your question.
Thanks again for sharing your views.

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Comments without support

Posted by Jason,

Why is it that people such as Ms. Wootan and Mr. Liodice are quoted as experts and yet they only offer opinion without any facts or substantiation? Is this omission the result of you not wanting to include a longer article or merely that they have no facts to support their suppositions? Just wondering. My "opinion" is that kids are getting fat because they don't get enough exercise. What they are eating may also have some effect, but it is not a problem I lay at the feet of the food companies. It is a lack of emphasis on exercise, family meals and developing good eating habits that will go with one throughout life.

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Other options better?

Posted by Mark Haub,

As a parent of two young children, I would rather have food advertisements than violent/adult content ads. I notice this when watching some sporting events during the day or sometimes kids movies will air ads for adult TV shows -- crime-based and/or sexual oriented shows that will air later that day.

I would much rather discuss health with my kids than answer whether someone really shot/sliced someone else in cold blood. I realize violence is a reality of life, but I would rather discuss food choices with my 3 and 6 yr old kids than sex and murder. -- Mark Haub

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