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Sue’s Morning Stretch: Kids still seeing lots of TV food ads, study shows

Remember how food companies, feeling the public and governmental pressure, said a few years back, hey, we’ll voluntarily cut the number of TV food ads aimed at kids? How they assured us no one had to regulate them? We’ll take care of this ourselves, was the promise. And not only would there be fewer TV ads targeted at children of all ages, but when they did advertise it would be their healthier products.

Does all this ring a bell? (FYI, it was called the Children Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, and the year was 2007.)

Well, apparently things didn’t turn out so hot, according to a tweet put out late last week by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

It seems the number of ads children saw increased by 8 percent, according to a recent study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. Even more disturbing was the fact that after the Initiative came about, there was a 25 percent hike in ads to adolescents (although that has leveled off since 2010). The study found children saw about 13.1 ads a day while adolescents (ages 12-17) saw 16.5 daily.

Not only were kids of all ages seeing more food ads, but it looks like the pledge to show good-for-you food products didn’t exactly happen, either. Fast food restaurants, sugary cereals and candy were most frequently advertised, according to the study.

I recorded several hours of TV shows aimed at kids and teens so I could see the ads in action. What jumped out at me wasn’t just the number of ads, but the message. The underlying theme is  this is what happy families eat. A kid sees enough of these ads and they get the idea, this is what my family and I should eat to enjoy life, save money and have good times together. For teens, the overlying theme in the ads is that these products are the path to being cool, accepted — this is what all the popular kids are eating, drinking, you should be doing that too, if you want to be with the in crowd.

So it’s not just that the food companies are saying, hey eat and drink my products. It’s also that they’ve been very successful in creating a slick class of ads that sell an attractive way of life, one that looks oh-so appealing.  That’s a very hard message to go up against when we’re trying to get kids to cut back on the processed foods.

— Sue Ontiveros