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CHILDREN SEE LESS TV FOOD ADVERTISING IN 2004 THAN IN 1977

FTC Study Finds 33% Drop Compared With Programming 30 Years Ago

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A Federal Trade Commission staff report today delivered at the start of a two-day workshop looking into whether food marketing is responsible for the increase in childhood obesity in the U.S. suggested the amount of food advertising children see on TV has decreased substantially since 1977.
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The report, from Pauline M. Ippolito, an associate director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics, said that at least for TV advertising, there had been no increase in the amount of food advertising children see.

Nielsen media data
Ms. Ippolito said a comparison of research done by the FTC in 1977, with Nielsen Media data from 2004, shows that the number of food and fast-food commercials children see, in addition to how many minutes of commercials they are exposed to, is dramatically down from past years.

Concern over the U.S. population's expanding waistlines has intensified the scrutiny on children obesity and its causes, bringing charges by food industry critics of increased marketing of junk food and foods heavy in sugar to children. The workshop, convened by the FTC and the Department of Health and Human Services, will examine marketing and what steps marketers can or should take to help control childhood obesity.

33% drop vs. 1977
According to the research, each child aged 2 to 11 saw 2,724 commercials for food or fast food in 2004 vs. 4,100 in 1977, a 33% decrease all based on programming with more than 50% of the audience in that age group. The number of minutes of commercial time was also down. Children today saw fewer commercials for all products too, according to the study, but the drop in food and fast food was steeper than the decrease in overall products. Ms. Ippolito acknowledged the FTC used slight different research methods in 1977 than it did in 2004.

Groups that have criticized food advertising today said that while they want to examine the latest study, the TV decline could simply reflect marketers moving to other mediums like the Internet to market to children.

The report was unveiled as an official of the Centers for Disease Control said there is increasing indication that overall TV watching, rather than any messages children see, could be a contributing cause of childhood obesity.

Maybe it's the TV, not the ads
Dr. William Dietz, director of CDC’s division of nutrition and physical activity, said that while the research is preliminary, there are indications that increasing levels of obesity in Hispanic and African-American children coincided with increased TV watching. He said it is still unknown whether the problem is that TV watching prompts increased consumption of foods. He also said that 25% of 2-year-olds have a TV in their rooms.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, opened the conference with a warning that Congress would take action if advertisers didn’t act to limit marketing to children and said that any voluntary industry plan that relied on the Children’s Advertising Review Unit and voluntary compliance “is a non-starter.”

“CARU, frankly, has become a poster child for how not to conduct self-regulation. Time and again, it has shown itself to be a captive of the industry. It has no real independence. No sanction authority. No teeth,” he said. “Half measures are not acceptable. The hour is too late. Children are at risk. The time to act is now.”

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