Junkfood Science: Kid-friendly food not to blame

June 02, 2007

Kid-friendly food not to blame

The war on childhood obesity is increasingly blaming the “bad” foods that kids love as being the source of the problem, regardless of what the facts of the matter might be. Specifically, efforts are focusing in on legislation calling for further restrictions on television food advertising. Hearings are coming up on July 18th at the FTC and HHS, entitled “Marketplace Responses to Childhood Obesity.” As the build-up continues, no doubt, we’ll be hearing more stories in the news about how sorry our kids are eating.

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission released the facts on advertisements and programming viewed by children, ages 2 to 11, since 1977. Their report found that kids are not seeing any more food ads on television today than they were 30 years ago. It will probably not sit well with some who believe children’s diets have gone to pot in part through exposure to the media. It did, however, concur with what was reviewed here in March on what children see on television. There is no evidence to support a role for television ads, just like “bad” foods, in contributing to childhood obesity, but plenty to suggest a role in kids’ growing concerns over weight and dieting.

Analyzing Nielsen Media Research/Nielsen Monitor-Plus data, their report concluded:

First, our data do not support the view that children are exposed to more television food advertising today. Our best estimates indicate that children's exposure to food advertising on television has fallen by about 9 percent between 1977 and 2004. Children's exposure to all paid television advertising has fallen as well.

Second, our data do not support the view that children are seeing more advertising for low nutrition foods....While the foods advertised on children's programming in 2004 do not constitute a balanced diet, this was the case as well in 1977, before the rise in obesity.

Specifically, they found that the “mix of food ads seen by children in 2004 is somewhat more evenly spread across these food categories than in 1977. Cereals and Desserts and Sweets no longer dominated.”

An especially interesting point was that children saw 130% more promos and public service announcements than food advertisements. Regrettably, they didn’t look at how many of those paid programs were for diet and weight loss products. That would be interesting because that seems to be all that’s on television anymore.

Bookmark and Share