Young Children See up to 50 Hours of Food Ads a Year

Kaiser Study Says a Third of Those Messages Are for Candy and Snacks

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Children see from 29 hours to nearly 52 hours of food ads on TV every year, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that could turn up the heat in Washington for marketers to change their marketing.
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The food-marketing wars are being ratcheted up a notch by the latest condemnation of children-targeted advertising by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Just more than a third of the TV ads children under 12 see are for candy and snacks, 28% are for cereal and 10% for fast-food, according to the study, which, predictably, kicked off new calls for marketers and media companies to rein in their advertising to help lower childhood obesity rates.

Children aged 2-7 watch, on average, 748 hours of TV a year; those 8-12 watch almost 1,250 hours a year.

Threat of regulation
"I think our task is to get [things] done and show results quickly or you are looking at stronger government regulation taking place," warned Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan, "It's a clear moment for [the industry] to work together. If people are not working together and things are not happening, you will see a much more regulatory environment going forward."

Ad groups and food industry executives said the study relied on ads from 2005, thereby missing significant shifts in marketing for food products the industry has since made.

The new study is as an attempt to resolve a big behind-the-scenes problem in the ongoing debate over whether food ads contribute to childhood obesity. But there was little consensus on the number of ads children see. Critics contend the number has been rising; one study found that children see 40,000 food ads a year. Ad and food groups say that number has been decreasing, in part because rising media prices have resulted in fewer ads.

Networks monitored
Kaiser researchers didn't directly answer the question of whether the number of ads have increased, but the study, headed by Indiana University professor Walter Gantz, tried to create a benchmark that will more easily permit a look back. They examined ads and public service announcements running on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, WB, UPN, ABC Family, BET, the Cartoon Network and MTV. Because the study looked at networks based on household ratings, it also included two other networks popular with children, even though they don't accept ads -- PBS and the Disney Channel. The result, according to the study, is the final tally of ads seen was lowered.

"Most of the food ads that children and teens see on TV are for foods that nutritionists, watchdog groups and government agencies argue should be consumed either in moderation, occasionally, or in small portions," the study concludes.

Food marketing critics yesterday said the report demonstrates that there is far more to do. They called on the media to present a more balanced approach to nutrition, countering paid ads with PSAs if necessary and for the government to step up its nutrition-education efforts.

Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers, and Mary Sophos, senior VP of the Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association, meanwhile, said advertisers are already moving to market healthier foods to kids.

Other results from the Kaiser study:

  • Children see from 13,904 to 30,155 TV ads annually, with children aged 2 to 7 seeing the fewest and 8 to 12 year olds seeing the most. The youngest children see fewer ads, in part, because they watch PBS and cable channels without ads. The exact numbers: 13,904 for 2- to 7-year-olds; 30,155 for 8- to 12-year-olds and 28,655 for teens 13 to 17 years old.

  • Children 2-7 see 12 food ads a day; 8- to 12-year-olds see 21 a day; and tweens ages 13-17 see 17 a day.

  • Children see relatively few fitness and nutrition messages. The study said 2- to 12-year-olds see one PSA every two to three days, while youngsters 13 to 17 see them fewer than once a week.
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