U.S. Government Wants to Scale Back on Food Ads Geared for Kids

With childhood obesity up, the federal government wants to cap the number of unhealthy food ads geared toward young people.

Posted: 05/05/2011 02:47 PM EDT
Filed Under obesity

Food Ads Geared Towards Children

Children might not be seeing as much of Ronald McDonald, Cap'n Crunch and other characters in the near future. In a set of proposed new guidelines created at the request of the U.S. Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control, will give food companies a choice: Either make your foods healthier or stop advertising to kids as much.


Given the alarming trend of childhood obesity in this country, it makes sense that officials want to crack down on the frequency at which companies market foods that are high in sugar, fat or salt to children. Especially when these ads use cartoon characters to push their products. And ads are not just limited to television commercials—children are exposed to these ads on the Internet, online games as well as cereal boxes.


“Toucan Sam can sell healthy food or junk food,” said Dale Kunkel, a communications professor at the University of Arizona who studies the marketing of children’s food told the New York Times. “This forces Toucan Sam to be associated with healthier products.”


The New York Times reported:

"The guidelines, released by the Federal Trade Commission, encompass a broad range of marketing efforts, including television and print ads, Web sites, online games that act as camouflaged advertisements, social media, product placements in movies, the use of movie characters in cross-promotions and fast-food children’s meals. The inclusion of digital media, such as product-based games, represents one of the government’s strongest efforts so far to address the extension of children’s advertising into the online world, which children’s health advocates say is a growing problem."


The guidelines are meant to be voluntary, but companies are likely to face heavy pressure to adopt them. Companies that choose to take part would have 5 to 10 years to bring their products and marketing into compliance.


Five to 10 years doesn't seem like a lot of time, especially when the rates of obesity continue to keep going up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 percent of African-American girls ages 6 to 12 are overweight and 19 percent of African-American boys in the same age group are overweight. In terms of Black teenagers, the numbers are almost the same. In terms of obesity, 22.4 percent of African-American children ages 6 to 17 are obese.


And I hear some of you: "Ads are just ads; they don't need to be regulated. It's not that serious." But for the most impressionable, these ads and what they represent—unhealthy foods with very little nutritional value taste better—become engrained in our kids' heads over time.  


In a 2007 study, researchers found that children found food that was wrapped in McDonald's wrapper to taste better than food that was not wrapped. Even healthy foods such as carrots, milk and apple juice tasted better to the kids when they were wrapped in the familiar packaging of the golden arches. The study also had youngsters sample identical McDonald’s foods in name-brand and unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods always lost the taste test.


Yeah, it's that deep. Go snack on that.




(Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty)