Food Marketing – Some Thoughts

The nutritional value of foodstuffs and drinks advertised on children’s television programs is worse than food shown in ads during general air time, according to University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

Using Nielsen TV ratings data from 2009, UIC researchers examined children’s exposure to food and beverage ads seen on all—both adult and children ‘s—programming. It also looked at the nutritional content of ads on children’s shows with a child-audience share of 35 percent or greater, the first study to do so.

Spurlock uses real footage of the child in schools along with interviews from school officials and boys to link the question of child obesity with fast food. Spurlock shows footage of the child in schools making poor food decisions. This footage is intended to provoke a discussion about fast food and children because adults typically don’t attend school with their children and therefore don’t see the problem in action. Spurlock brings attention to the issue with fast food in schools, resulting in poor food decisions from children, to suggest that a debate is needed to correct the problem. Interviews with children are employed to provoke a discussion about fast food marketing because the interviews show children are unaware of important figures such as the chairman or God. However, they know all the fast food mascots. This suggests it is necessary to discuss fast food advertisements geared towards children because these unimportant mascots play big roles in the children’s food choices. Interviews with school representatives are used to provoke a discussion because they’re shown responding to questions in ways the typical audience member wouldn’t expect. School representatives give excuses for their behaviors rather than sufficient explanations regarding their food offerings at the school. The shocking footage is intended to provoke a conversation about the real reasons children eat poorly.

The researchers assessed the nutritional content of products advertised—cereals, snacks, beverages, sweets, and other foods—and whether they fit the proposed voluntary nutrition guidelines recommended by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children. The proposed federal guidelines, a joint effort of the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would limit saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium, due to their potential adverse effects on health or body weight.

Investigating More About Food Marketing

The study also noted which ads were from food companies that pledged to promote healthier products to children or to refrain from targeting children in their advertising, under the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. CFBAI began in 2006 and currently includes 16 companies that signed on, but likewise set their own nutritional criteria for foods advertised to children.

The researchers found that more than 84 percent of food and beverage ads seen by children, ages 2 to 11, on all programming were for products high in fats, sugars and sodium. More than 95 percent of ads were for products high in those unhealthy contents, on children’s programming.

Nearly all CFBAI ads seen on children’s programming failed to meet recommended federal nutrition principles; more than 97 percent were for products high in fats, sugars and sodium.

While many foods made by CFBAI companies meet federal nutrition guidelines, the study indicates that the companies choose to market less-nutritional products to children more heavily.

The CFBAI has proposed new, uniform nutrition criteria for member companies beginning Dec. 31, to replace the varying nutrition standards set by each company currently.

The new study acts as a benchmark in order to determine whether the new, common CFBAI nutrition criteria will improve the content of products marketed to children, said Powell, who also acts as associate director of UIC’s Health Policy Center of the Institute for Health Research and Policy.

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