On average children view 4000 Junk Food Ads Every Year influencing food preference and perceptions.
Commercial Viewing Linked to Junk Food Consumption
Research continues to prove a strong correlation between marketing of non-nutritious foods to children and their consumption. A study by the University of Michigan shows children who regularly watched television commercials consumed more junk food than children in households where television watching occurred commercial-free.
Why is this the case?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA)
- Children under the age of six cannot distinguish between programming and advertising
- Children under the age of eight cannot understand the persuasive intent of ads
- Children have a remarkable ability to recall content from ads and influence their parents’ purchases
- “Product preference” is established after just one commercial exposure and is strengthened with repeated exposures (An average child kids watches 10 food ads a day, or ~4000 food ads/year!)
- The most frequently advertised foods were sugar-sweetened beverages, sweetened cereals, prepackaged snack foods, fast foods, and convenience meals.
Breakfast Cereals: Case Study
The breakfast cereal category is a $10B industry. According to the Cereal FACTS 2012 report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity child-targeted cereals have 56% more sugar, half as much fiber, and 50% more sodium than adult-targeted cereals.
(Trix’ Ingredient List includes Sugar, Artificial Colors and Flavors, BHT to Preserve Freshness)
My analysis of 3023 cereals shows artificial colors and BHT are also prominent components in cereals.
The Cereal FACTS reports notes cereal companies increased advertising for many of their least nutritious cereals. Total media spending to promote child-targeted cereals increased by 34% from 2008 to 2011 and amounted to ~$2B.
Food Industry Self-Regulation is not Working
In response to various studies linking childhood obesity to food advertisements, dozens of food companies re-created the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), which laid out a set of rules for television advertising. Among the rules, the CFBAI promised child-directed food advertisements on television would tout only healthier foods and scale back the use of cartoons and other characters to gain kids’ favor.
The problem? The program was self-regulatory and the definition of healthier foods by CBAI is generous.
The industry met its standards by running fewer commercials and ensuring the commercials running are shorter in length. But, in terms of actual content, the industry has continued pitching unhealthy food to kids, almost without exception.
Roughly 80 percent of food television ads in 2007 were for the kinds of things the Department of Health and Human Services believes should be eaten “only once in a while or on special occasions.” In 2013 the percentage was exactly the same. Meanwhile, the healthiest tier of foods (fruits, vegetables, etc) decreased from four percent in 2007 to only one percent of all food advertisements in 2013.
1. The obvious: Turn the Television off for a day, week, month, the entire Summer even!
2. DVR shows: Reduce tube time and Fast forward through commercials by DVRing shows
3. DVDs: Watch television shows on DVDs or Videos
4. Limit all screens: Ads pop up on social media, smart phone apps and websites