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Ads during children’s TV shows feature more unhealthy foods

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The nutritional value of foods advertised during children’s television programs are worse than those shown during general TV air time, say researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The study was announced on Dec. 17, 2013, and was published in the December issue of the journal “Childhood Obesity.”

Researchers used 2009 Nielsen TV ratings data to investigate food and beverage ads on children’s and general air time. The study is the first to examine the nutritional content of both children’s programs and those with a child-general audience share of 35 percent or more.

Advertised products such as snacks, cereals, beverages, and sweets were analyzed to see whether they fit with the voluntary nutritional guidelines recommended by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children.

“We found that less than half of children’s exposure to ads for food and beverage products comes from children’s programming, meaning that a significant portion of exposure is not subject to self-regulation,” said Lisa Powell, professor of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

Some of the food companies studied had pledged to promote healthier foods and beverages or had pledged not to target children with their ads under the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).

Study findings:

  • 97 percent of the ads by food companies pledged to uphold the CFBAI failed to meet federally recommended nutritional guidelines
  • Some CFBAI companies met the guidelines, but were choosing to heavily market less nutritious products
  • 84 percent of food and beverage ads viewed by children ages 2 to 11 on all programming were for products high in sugar, sodium, and fats
  • More than 95 percent of the advertising on children's programming were for products high in sugar, sodium, and fats

“The self-regulatory effort has been ineffective so far,” Powell said. The CFBAI has proposed a uniform nutrition criteria for member companies beginning Dec. 31, 2013, in order to replace the nutrition standards currently set by each company.

“The new study serves as a benchmark to determine if the new, common CFBAI nutrition criteria will improve the content of products marketed to children,” said Powell, who also serves as associate director of UIC’s Health Policy Center of the Institute for Health Research and Policy.

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