Self-regulation of food advertising to children appears unsuccessful
No significant improvements have been found in the nutritional value of food marketed to children after the food and beverage industry’s 2009 self-regulating program, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.
The initiative, whose participants include 17 of the nation’s largest food companies, had vowed to market only healthy foods that met company-specified nutritional standards, in their child-directed advertisements.
“The long-standing pattern favoring nutritionally deficient food products over more-healthy items clearly persisted despite the advent of industry self-regulation. This outcome occurred largely because participants in self-regulation achieved no significant improvement in the nutritional quality of their advertised foods between 2007 and 2013,” Dale Kunkel, PhD, department of communication at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said in a press release.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the food industry’s self-regulation policy, researchers performed a systematic content analysis of food advertisements appearing during children’s TV shows prior to and after the initiative was implemented.
Results demonstrated that in 2013, 80.5% of all food ads that children saw on TV were marketing products of low nutritional value, compared with 79.4% in 2008. The researchers note that these are the foods that pose the highest risk of contributing to childhood obesity. Additionally, the sample size for healthy food advertisements was so small, it proved inadequate for statistical comparisons.
The researchers were surprised to find that since 2007, there has been a 25% reduction in the overall amount of ads appearing during children’s TV programming, declining from 8.5 ads/hour to 6.4 ads/hour. However, this finding is not indicative of any goal set out in the self-regulation intervention, and is more likely due to advertisers finding cheaper methods of marketing, such as the social media, which may also result in less public scrutiny, according to the researchers.
“With a persistent national obesity crisis, the failure to act more strongly holds adverse implications for America’s children. As the [Institute of Medicine] suggested in 2006, governmental restrictions on advertising practices will likely be required to end the predominance of unhealthy products in child-targeted food marketing,” the researchers wrote. – by Casey Hower
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.