What Are Those Ads Feeding My Kids?

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Online advertising targeted at kids may promote unhealthy food choices

July 3, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

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(dailyRx News) On one hand, kids learn a lot by surfing the web. But on the other hand, they are constantly bombarded with advertisements. Food and beverage ads top the list.

These heavily advertised products may not always be as healthy as they might appear to be, according to a recent study.

The study showed that, though some companies have pledged to approve and display only healthy food and beverage ads to children, most of the advertisements promoted products high in fat, sugar and/or sodium.

"Help your kids make healthy food choices."

This study was conducted by Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, and Amy Ustjanauskas, BA, at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, along with their colleagues.

The aim of the study was to find out what amount of the food and beverage ads published on popular children’s websites were approved by companies for advertising to children.

A few years ago, sixteen companies in the US formed the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) and pledged to advertise only healthy dietary choices to children. These companies have an approval process in place for ads targeted at children.

This study also looked at what amount of these company-approved ads met government-proposed nutrition standards.

The researchers examined Internet exposure data from syndicated sources for the period between July 2009 and June 2010. The data identified popular kids’ websites and the food ads children viewed on these websites.

The data showed that 3.4 billion food advertisements were displayed on kids’ websites. Four of these websites carried 83 percent of the ads.

Breakfast cereals and fast food ads were displayed most frequently (64 percent of ads). Of the ads displayed, 74 percent were company-approved.

However, 84 percent of the total ads displayed to children were for products that had high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium.

The researchers also examined if the products approved for advertising to kids met nutrition standards issued by an agency called the Interagency Working Group (IWG).

The researchers found that the products that were deemed by companies as healthy and appropriate for child-directed advertisements were least likely to meet independent nutrition standards.

"Billions of display advertisements for food products appear on popular children's websites every year," the study authors wrote.

"Despite promises by companies participating in the CFBAI to improve food advertising to children, most display advertisements promote products that do not qualify as healthful according to US government-proposed nutrition standards," they wrote.

The results of this study were published online July 2 in Pediatric Obesity, a publication of the International Association for the Study of Obesity.

The study was supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
July 3, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013