On August 1st, the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine published the results of their research on “Trends in the Nutritional Content of Television Food Advertisements Seen by Children in the United States.” The study found that the children’s exposure to food and beverages high in saturated fat, sugar or sodium decreased between 2003 and 2009. While this is great news, the researchers also found that children’s exposure to fast-food advertising actually increased by about 9% between that same time period.
So what’s the big deal? Any parent will gladly answer that question. Children’s brains are like sponges. When they see an advertisement for a delicious, sugary cereal or yummy cheeseburger, they want it and won’t forget it. So you can bet on the next trip to the grocery store, little Suzy will be begging for that cereal. Additionally, food habits formed during childhood will stick with the child as he or she grows and will become difficult habits to break. Thus, it’s important—for the child’s health and the parents’ sanity—that healthy food options are the focus of television advertisements.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for a ban on fast-food ads during children’s programs due to research linking commercials to kid’s hunger for junk food. This research found kids watching cartoons consumed 45% more snacks when they were exposed to food ads instead of ads for other products.
The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) too has decided to make some changes. This initiative includes 17 companies—including Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and General Mills—that are dedicated to improving the nutritional content of the food advertised during children’s programs. The CFBAI recently announced that it would introduce uniform nutritional criteria based on US dietary guidelines, for foods that can be advertised to children. Unfortunately, these criteria won’t go in to effect until 2014.
Because the ban on fast-food ads and the CFBAI nutritional criteria are still in the development stages, parents must be aware that sugary, fatty, salty foods are still heavily featured during their children’s television viewing. To help limit children’s exposure to the advertisements, parents should ideally limit viewing time and get the kids “off the couch.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids partake in no more than 2 hours of screen-time (television and computer time) per day. The time that would have been spent in front of the television can be dedicated to getting outdoors, playing board games, etc. And if the kiddos really want to watch some television, try children’s videos or DVDs to avoid commercials.
Guest author, Maggie Voelker, holds a BS degree in Kinesiology and Health. Much of her undergraduate research dealt with children’s television viewing habits and the connections to obesity. Today, Maggie works as a content writer for a socks provider specializing in diabetic socks.