November 12, 2012 by amberpulaski
American children watch around 3.5 hours of television per day. Of course, with that come a lot of advertisements. In 2009, children saw approximately 11 food-related advertisements per day, and 86% of the products seen in these ads were high in saturated or trans fats, sugar, or sodium. This is a problem, because high intake of these foods is linked to obesity. (3)
In 2006, the Better Business Bureau started the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). The purpose of this initiative was to encourage companies to voluntarily enroll in the program, submit pledges to market healthy foods, and agree to be monitored by the bureau. There are now 16 companies participating, including Burger King, Campbell Soup Company, Coca-Cola Company, McDonalds, and many other prominent names (2). It may seem like 16 companies is not enough to make a difference, but together these 16 companies accounted for 80% of advertisements for food and beverages (3). If these companies all complied with CFBAI guidelines, it would have significant impact on marketing exposure to unhealthy foods. Campbell et al. conducted a study to compare the content of ads before and after CFBAI implementation. The study found that there was an improvement in the types of foods being advertised, but 86% (compared to 94% prior to CFBAI) of the ads still contained foods high in fat, sodium and sugar (3). CFBAI’s initiative that is based on voluntary involvement does not have sufficient compliance by member companies to make a real difference.
Obama administration has been trying for the past few years to pass legislation that would outline guidelines for the types of food and beverage that should be marketed to children. A working group has already convened with representatives from most of the prominent health institutions in the US to establish guidelines for what qualifies a food or beverage as being “healthy” and suitable for marketing to children. The guidelines will provide recommendations related to calorie content, food group representation, and nutrient content of foods marketed to children (1). The goal of this legislation would be to improve the diets of American children and reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity.
Food and beverage companies do not support the proposal. Although following the guidelines will be voluntary, many companies feel that organizational pressures from various groups will force them into cooperating and pretty much eliminate advertising to children. Industry argues that not being able to advertise to children will lead to job loss. Is industry referencing job loss in their marketing department or due to decreased sales? Either way, companies could opt instead to switch strategies and market healthier products. Many companies argue they don’t have products that meet the guidelines and that it is too expensive to reformulate products to make them healthier. Companies also claim the plan is an infringement on commercial free speech. Obama administration addressed this concern by pointing out the plan would not be mandatory. Industry also claimed there is not a well-established link between marketing unhealthy foods to kids and childhood obesity (4). It is difficult to link obesity to advertising; it is most likely a result of a combination of variables. However, obesity has been linked to consumption of the types of foods and beverages being marketed to kids (3).
Passing legislation that regulates marketing toward children is not an easy task. The Obama administration is experiencing difficulty simply passing food-marketing guidelines that are not mandatory. In order for restrictions on food marketing to occur, a few things will need to happen. Guidelines for food considered healthy and therefore “marketable” will have to be carefully decided upon. Compromises may have to be made in order to ensure industry is not affected financially by the restrictions. Research will have to be provided to companies and public that shows positive relationship between advertising of unhealthy foods and weight gain in children. Parents will have to become more involved in demanding better food products and advertisements for their children. Consumer involvement will put pressure on food and beverage companies to change their business practices, and industry will be more likely to concede to regulations.
1) Interagency Working Group Proposal on Food Marketing to Children
2) (2012). Children’s food and beverage advertising initiative. website: http://www.bbb.org/us/childrens-food-and-beverage-advertising-initiative/
3) Powell, L. M., Schermbeck, R. M., Szczypka, G., Chaloupka, F. J., & Braunschweig, C. L. (2011, December). Trends in the nutritional content of television food advertisements seen by children in the United States: Analyses by age, food categories, and companies.
4) ElBoghdady, D. (2011, December 15). Lawmakers want cost-benefit analysis on child food marketing restrictions. Retrieved from The Washington Post website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/lawmakers-want-cost-benefit-analysis-on-child-food-marketing-restrictions/2011/12/15/gIQAdqxywO_story.html