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Kaiser Study Prompts Calls for Food Ad Reform

Mar 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Half the TV ads kids under 12 see are food ads, says a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that could further fuel Washington pressure on media companies and marketers in the face of rising childhood obesity.

Just over a third of the ads were for candy and snacks; 28% were for cereal and 10% for fast foods. The study’s unveiling in Washington on Wednesday immediately kicked off new calls for marketers and media companies to rein in their advertising.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., called for marketer and media changes in the advertising kids see.

“I think our task is to get [things] done and show results quickly or you are looking at stronger government regulation taking place,” he warned, “It’s a clear moment for people to work together. If people are not working together and things are not happening, you will see much more regulatory action going forward.”

The new study is an attempt to resolve a behind-the-scenes issue in the ongoing debate on how much food ads contribute to kids’ obesity. There is no agreement on the number of ads kids see. Critics contend the number has been rising and one study said children see 40,000 food ads a year. Ad and food groups say the number has been decreasing in part because of rising media pricing buys and older targeting.

The ad and food industry groups are questioning the latest study saying its reliance on 2005 ads missed the significant shifts in marketing and food products made since. They said many of the ad changes the study suggests are needed have already taken place.

Kaiser researchers didn’t directly answer whether ads have increased, but they tried to at least determine how many they see. They examined ads and PSAs running on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, WB, UPN, ABC Family, BET, the Cartoon Network, and MTV and then added in PBS and the Disney Channel, using ratings information to quantify the results.

According to the study:

  • Kids see from 13,904 to 30,155 TV ads annually, with kids 2 to 7 years old seeing the fewest and 8- to 12-year-olds the most. The youngest children see fewer in part because they watch PBS and cable channels with fewer ads. The exact numbers: 13,904 for 2- to 7-year-olds; 30,155 for 8-to-12 year olds and 28,655 for teens 13 to 17.


  • Kids 2 to 7 years old see 12 food ads a day. Kids 8 to 12, 21 a day and tweens 13 to 17, 17 a day.


  • Kids see relatively few fitness and nutrition messages. The study said kids 2 to 12 see one PSA every two to three days, while kids 13 to 17 years old see them fewer than once a week.


  • Children see from 29 hours to nearly 52 hours of food ads a year.


  • (Editor: Fees)