Once researchers started to look, the results just pour in. Thanks to Margo Wootan of CSPI for send this new study from the journal, Pediatrics. It finds virtually all ads for food products on kids’ TV to be for the junkier ones. No surprise here; these are the profitable products. How many more of these studies do we need? Really, isn’t it high time for a few restrictions? How’s this for a starting position? No marketing of foods to kids. Period.
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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency that regulates food advertising, has just ordered a large group of food companies that make junk foods targeted to children to reveal how much money they are spending on advertising each of their products in general and to children, minorities, and other target groups. The FTC wants specific information about expenditures on marketing through traditional as well as modern kid-friendly channels: TV, radio, and print media, but also company-sponsored and other Internet sites, movie theaters, video games, in-store promotions, premium distributions, product placements, character licensing, sports sponsorships, word-of-mouth and “viral” campaigns, in-school, celebrity endorsements, and philanthropy, among others.
This is an astonishing action by the FTC, an agency that usually promotes food marketing and protects companies’ rights to do so. The last time the FTC tried to do something about the marketing of junk foods to kids–just on television–was in 1979. Then, Congress intervened, fired the head of the FTC, and passed a law allowing such marketing to continue. Well, times have changed in the intervening decades. Even little kids are now overweight and developing type 2 diabetes, reason enough to try to address the problem. At the end of 2005, the Institute of Medicine’s committee examining food marketing to kids complained that companies would not give it “proprietary” information about advertising expenditures or sales. So let’s give the FTC lots of credit for demanding this information and for considering how to put some curbs on the unchecked greed of companies pushing junk foods to kids.
Give kids identical foods, some in McDonald’s wrappers, some not, and ask the kids which ones they like best. Big surprise: they like the foods labeled McDonald’s much better, especially if they often eat at McDonald’s or watch a lot of television. And these were little kids–aged 3 to 5. That’s the gist of a new study from the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a journal not on my usual reading list so I am indebted to the UC Berkeley Center for Family and Community Health for sending it to me. Actually, the effect of branding on kids’ taste preferences is so easy to demonstrate that even kids can prove it. In my book Food Politics, I quote a science fair project done by a couple of 13-year-olds in Portland, OR who did the same experiment with their classmates’ soda preferences. This is why companies are so eager to put their brand in every possible place where kids can see it. It makes kids want to eat brand-named foods (what I call “kids’ foods”) and not want to eat foods without brands. As for adults….?
A reader writes: ”
I am a fan of your work, and am writing to ask your opinion of an idea.
Can you think of an appropriate lobbying group to consider demanding that all TV food advertisements carry a listing of calories, fat, and sugar content? I was watching a TV show that had several ads for restaurant meals, hefty desserts, etc and realized how seductive such ads can be. Perhaps, if we viewers saw that a certain ice-cream creation had over 1,000 calories and 40 grams of fat, we might not hop in the car for a fix.
If alcohol ads have ‘Drink Responsibly” all over them on TV, and cigarettes only show up in print ads but still with the Cancer warnings, could not food ads have a simple listing of the three common obesity triggers?”
Opinions, please. Would something like this be useful?