Children's Health
Despite Progress, Most Food Advertising to Kids Still Unhealthy
Nov 6, 2017 - 1:35:39 PM

( - Although children are viewing less food-related advertising, especially on children’s TV and the internet, since the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) industry self-regulatory program was launched in 2007, they still see 10 to 11 food-related TV ads per day, promoting mostly unhealthy products, including fast food, candy, sweet and salty snacks, and sugary drinks. These are the findings of a comprehensive new study, released today, by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

Ten years after the launch of food industry self-regulation, food advertising to children remains far from the goal of supporting healthful diets.— Jennifer Harris

As part of the voluntary initiative, major food and beverage companies pledged to shift the mix of foods advertised to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices. Yet the majority of CFBAI companies have not responded to repeated calls from public health experts to further strengthen nutrition standards for products they identify as healthier dietary choices that can be advertised directly to children; expand the initiative to cover children up to at least 14 years old; and expand the types of media covered by their pledges to include programming that children frequently view, as well as all forms of marketing that appeal to children, such as mobile apps with branded games and YouTube videos.

“The food and beverage companies participating in the voluntary initiative should be recognized for actions they have taken to reduce advertising to children,” said Jennifer Harris, associate professor of allied health sciences, director of marketing initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, and lead author of the study. “But limitations in self-regulatory pledges allow companies to continue to advertise unhealthy products to children.

“Furthermore, increased advertising by companies that do not participate in CFBAI has offset much of the reduction in advertising by CFBAI companies,” Harris adds, “and children continue to view thousands of TV ads per year for unhealthy food and drinks, including ads for candy, snacks, sugary drinks, and fast food that target them directly.”

Harris is presenting the new report today at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

The study assesses the stated goal of CFBAI participating companies’ to promote healthier choices in child-directed advertising, which the companies define as media where children under age 12 make up 35 percent or more of the audience, as well as changes in children’s exposure to all food-related advertising, from both CFBAI participating and non-participating companies, on TV and the internet.

Specifically, the researchers quantified food-related advertising to children in 2016 using syndicated market research data; measured improvements since the CFBAI began in 2007; quantified progress and the impact of limitations in industry voluntary pledges; and assessed the nutritional quality of participating CFBAI companies’ child-directed products and brands as of May 2017.

Key findings include:

“Ten years after the launch of food industry self-regulation, food advertising to children remains far from the goal of supporting healthful diets,” Harris says. “The food and media industries must act to address repeated calls from parents, policymakers and children’s health advocates to strengthen industry self-regulation and take meaningful action to ensure that marketing for food and beverages does not continue to put children’s health at risk.”

Support for this research was provided the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.


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