Food is the Top Product Seen Advertised by Children

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Childhood Obesity and TV Food Ads

As the fight against childhood obesity escalates, the issue of food advertising to children has come under increasing scrutiny. Policymakers in Congress, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and agencies such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM) have called for changes in the advertising landscape, and U.S. food and media industries are developing their own voluntary initiatives related to advertising food to children. To help inform this debate, the Kaiser Family Foundation today released the largest study ever conducted of TV food advertising to children.

The study, Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States, combines content analysis of TV ads with detailed data about children's viewing habits, to provide an estimate of the number and type of TV ads seen by children of various ages. The study found that tweens ages 8-12 see the most food ads on TV, an average of 21 ads a day, or more than 7,600 a year. Teenagers see slightly fewer ads, at 17 a day, for a total of more than 6,000 a year. For a variety of reasons -- because they watch less TV overall, and more of their viewing is on networks that have limited or no advertising, such as PBS and Disney -- children ages 2-7 see the least number of food ads, at 12 food ads a day, or 4,400 a year.

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For each age group studied, food was the top product seen advertised. Thirty-two percent of all ads seen by 2-7 year olds were for food, while 25% of ads seen by 8-12 year olds and 22% of ads seen by 13-17 year olds were for food. Of all genres on TV, shows specifically designed for children under 12 have the highest proportion of food advertising (50% of all ad time).

"Children of all ages see thousands of food ads a year, but tweens see more than any other age group," said Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Since tweens are at an age where they are just becoming independent consumers, understanding what type of advertising they are exposed to is especially important."

Types of Food Advertised.

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