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Unhealthy food ads that target kids

by Aimee Keenan-Greene

The government wants food companies to voluntarily cut back on ads that target children ages 2-17 and promote buying unhealthy foods.
Under newly released guidelines, marketing would focus on foods low in fats, sugars and sodium and contain specified healthy ingredients.
McDonalds, General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Global and PepsiCo Inc., have already joined a less strict initiative sponsored by the Better Business Bureau to limit their marketing to children.

McDonald's Corp has 13 websites, attracting 365,000 unique child visitors under 12 annually. One specifically, "Ronald.com",  targets preschoolers, according to a recent Rudd report.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University also found:
  • The average preschooler aged 2 to 5 saw 2.8 television ads for fast food every day; children aged 6-11 saw 3.5 daily fast-food ads and youngsters 12 and older saw 4.7 such ads.
  • Child-targeted marketing did not encourage kids to eat healthier food offerings such as apple slices, but focused on toy giveaways and building brand loyalty.
  • More than 60% of fast-food ads viewed by preschoolers and children promoted fast food items other than kids' meals, meaning they saw ads for even less-healthy adult food items.
  • Black and Hispanic children are targeted especially hard. The average Spanish-speaking preschoolers saw 290 Spanish-language fast-food TV ads in 2009, and a quarter of Spanish ads aimed at children were for McDonald's.
  • Nielsen and Arbitron ratings suggested that African American children and teens saw at least 50 percent more fast-food ads on TV in 2009 than their white peers.
  • 84% of parents reported taking their child to a fast-food restaurant at least once a week and 66 percent said they went to a McDonald's in the past week.
The report says the industry spent more than $4.2 billion in 2009 on marketing and advertising on television, the Internet, social media sites and mobile applications.
High-fat, high-cholesterol foods contribute to America’s childhood obesity epidemic.  This in turn increases the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says two-thirds of American adults and 15 percent of children are overweight or obese. In some states, the childhood obesity rate is above 30 percent.
Another recent study in the International Journal of Obesity says calorie labels make little difference influencing teen food choices for patrons at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Also reported recently, a study on the influence of advertising appearing in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that says an accompanying cartoon advertisement can make a child think their food, cereal for example, tastes better.