Washington, D.C.—One in three American children and adolescents are overweight or obese, and restricting unhealthy food marketing to youth is one important step to addressing this crisis, according to a new report by national consumer organization Food & Water Watch. It Pays to Advertise: Junk Food Marketing to Children analyses recent trends in food marketing aimed at children and concludes that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) must step up and actively regulate marketing to youth, including food and beverage marketing, rather than rely on the food industry’s ineffective voluntary system.
“The FTC has the power to reduce childhood obesity in the United States by decisively regulating the quality and quantity of food and beverage marketing targeted to children,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The question is, do they have the steel to stand up to the food industry? If we put enough pressure on them, they could do an extraordinary thing for America’s future by taking a stand for healthy children and actively regulating the industry’s ubiquitous marketing of junk food through the media they’re exposed to every day.”
Food and beverage companies spent $1.6 billion in 2006 to target children through television, online, and even through schools. According to the FTC, children are exposed to 38 hours of food advertising per year—mostly cereals, desserts, restaurant and fast food, and sweetened drinks—foods that the FTC itself admits do not represent a balanced diet. The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity made similar findings in their 2010 study, estimating that children view nearly 5,000 food advertisements annually. Viewing large amounts of television during childhood has been associated in multiple studies with unhealthy dietary habits and high body mass indexes later in life.
Some of the more egregious examples of junk food marketing the report cites include:
- Companies spent $360 million on toys included in children’s meals.
- An analysis of nearly 150 commercials shown in children’s programming found 85 percent associated the product with fun or happiness, and nearly 60 percent associated the food with play.
- Two McDonald’s websites, one specifically devoted to Happy Meals, received 350,000 visitors under the age of 12 in February 2011. Two popular websites for Froot Loops and Apple Jacks received 216,000 and 175,000 visitors respectively each month in 2011, all under the age of 17.
“Until the FTC regulates food marketing aimed at children, junk food corporations will reach them online, in traditional ads and product placements, and even in our schools,” said Hauter. “Arguments that parents have control over the media their children view are really a cover for the fact that corporations are inundating families with messages promoting unhealthy foods. The FTC has the power to do the right thing: reign in the power of junk food companies to seduce our children into obesity.”
The organization has started a petition to the White House to ask them to broaden their regulation of food marketing aimed at children beyond the “voluntary principals” set out by the FTC in 2011.
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; drakestraw(at)fwwatch(dot)org