Study finds extra helpings of junk food ads on kids TV

Tweens see an average of 21 a day

Children are being force-fed a diet of junk food ads on television as spots for candy, snacks and fast food crowd healthy food off the commercial plate.

According to a new study called "Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States," released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages 8-12 see the most food ads on TV — an average of 21 a day, or 7,600 a year. Teenagers see 17 a day, or about 6,000 a year, and children ages 2-7 see 12 a day, or 4,400 a year.

"The vast majority of the foods that kids see advertised on television today are for products that nutritionists would tell us they need to be eating less of, not more of, if we're going to get a handle on childhood obesity," Kaiser vp Vicki Rideout said.

The study comes a week after FCC commissioner Deborah Tate broached a policy change that would require the same number of ads for healthy foods as for unhealthy foods (HR 3/22).

The ads in the "Food for Thought" study were particularly pernicious for children ages 8-12, the so-called tweens.

"Children of all ages see thousands of food ads a year, but tweens see more than any other age group," Rideout said. "Since tweens are at an age where they're just becoming independent consumers, understanding what type of advertising they are exposed to is especially important."

Overall, the foundation's researchers monitored 13 television networks. The viewing took place primarily between late May and early September 2005. They saw 2,613 ads featuring food and drinks that targeted children and teens.

In November, 10 major food- and drinkmakers, including such companies as McDonald's, the Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., agreed to adopt new voluntary rules for advertising. The companies said they would devote at least half their advertising directed to children to promote healthier diets and lifestyles.