TV and children: Ads for fast food are up, ads for sweets and cookies are down

TV isn’t the same as it used to be, especially when it comes to children’s shows.

Though friendly faces such as Mr. Rogers and Barney the dinosaur used to be popular among kids, hyper-active animated samurais and brightly colored creatures from the Gabba gang now rule the small screen.

The same can be said about television food advertisements. Something has definitely changed?

Using television rating data from Nielsen Media Research for 2003, 2005 and 2007, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed trends in exposure to food advertising by age and race for children and adolescents, and came up with some interesting findings.

Whereas in 2003, cereal was the most frequently seen food product in kids’ food advertisements, by 2007 fast food ads were the most frequently seen ads for children of all ages.

Why is this not shocking?

On a more optimistic note, however, the study found that the overall number of food ads seen daily fell rather drastically from 2003 to 2007, especially among audiences aged 2 to 5 and 6 to 11 years old. (The number of candy bar and cookie ads also fell in all age categories, a statistic that is sure to make mothers happy.)

The study, which placed viewers into one of three categories by age — 2 to 5, 6 to 11, and 12 to 15 — also looked at their exposure to food ads by race. African American children in all age categories in all three years of ratings saw more food ads per day than their white counterparts, the scientists found.

Further troubling was the seesaw change in food advertising trends, in which a victory in one area signaled a defeat in another. For example, although the greatest percentage increase in beverage ad exposure was for bottled water (Yay for health!), exposure to diet soft drink ads also increased significantly, just not as much.

“It’s a little disturbing,” said Lisa Powell, lead author of the study and associate professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “On the one hand, the number of advertisements selling sweets and soft drinks to kids has decreased quite substantially — but on the other hand, you see that the number of ads for diet soda drinks, and racial targeting has also increased.”

Planning to take the study further, Powell said that she will now add 2009’s ratings into the mix. And she wants to start monitoring the nutritional contents of products advertised to children.

The study is published online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

 

–Published in The Los Angeles Times health section on July 5, 2010–

 

 

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