Report says TV ads push junk food, harm kids' diets

Most food and drink advertising to children promotes unhealthy choices, and the government should step in if the industry fails to improve the situation, an experts report said Tuesday.

"There is strong evidence that television advertising influences the diets of children" said Dr. Michael McGinnis, a senior scholar at the Institute of Medicine, which conducted the review.

Studies also suggest marketing can lead to higher rates of body fat, though more evidence is needed, said the institute, an independent, nonprofit body that advises the government.

The group called for a nationwide campaign to educate families about healthy foods, for national standards for food offered at schools, and for expanded industry guidelines to monitor the Internet and other nontraditional ad venues.

If industry efforts fail, Congress should force companies to advertise healthier choices, it said. US officials should monitor progress and update lawmakers in two years.

"We think that the issues confronting the health and well being of America's children, particularly with respect to childhood obesity...require an 'all hands on deck' effort," McGinnis told reporters.

Food and beverage industry groups have rejected the idea of government restrictions, saying consumers should make their own choices.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association said many of its members have already improved food labels and promoted healthier lifestyles. But the industry-funded Center for Consumer Freedom rejected the study's findings, saying a lack of exercise, not food, was to blame for rising obesity.

Last year, the food and beverage industry spent about $11 billion in advertising, including $5 billion on television commercials, mostly for high-calorie products with little nutritional value.

Promotions led children ages 2 to 11 to ask for certain products, and kids aged 4 and younger could not tell the difference between television advertisements and programming, the report said. Those 8 and younger did not understand that commercials are meant to persuade.

The impact on teenagers was less clear, because too little research has been done, the report found.

Experts also found companies were increasingly targeting children through the Internet, product placement, and other activities.

To reach its conclusions the team of media and health experts reviewed 123 published studies and industry information at a time when more Americans of all ages are getting fatter.

About 9 million US children and teenagers, or about 16 percent, are obese compared with 5 percent in the 1960s. The number of young people with type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, also is on the rise.

Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who pushed legislation requiring the $1 million study, said the "report proves that the onslaught of junk-food marketing is endangering the health of our children."

Consumer groups welcomed the findings, but some expressed doubts about whether companies would risk profit by curbing junk-food ads. Others, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called on Congress to act immediately.

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Why is the government just now worried about this?
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The parents choose wether they buy the products or not, so if someone has to be blamed, it's the parents, not the cartoon companies. But many parents DO make good choices, so you can't really blame anyone. I also think that these days less exercise is a bigger reason of obesity than foods. My dad said that when he was a kid, he walked to school and played outside all the time. Besides, if they want healthy foods with spongebob and stuff on them, they should be yelling at healthy food companies for not doing that.
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fascintating how food advertisements are to blame for obesity, but many people deny the influence of mass media and pop culture as a whole as a driving force in swaying public opinion. Personally, I think there's ALOT to be said about balance and thinking through the rammifications of a habit. eating unhealthy food on occasion or balanced with a good amount of veggies won't hurt anyone. but tipping the scale one way or the other CAN cause a suboptimal amount of body fat, cholesterol, fill-in-the-blank.

Plus, something tells me that you won't see any overly persuasive ads for celery sticks and carrots on Nickelodeon any time soon.
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There's always been ads for candy and sugary stuff aimed at kids, but only suddenly that they're getting fat. Maybe if states stopped making Phys. Ed optional and kids exercised a bit more it would help.
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Yes but if the kids would haven`t seen the ads & commercials in the 1st place, they wouldn`t be urging to purchase the products and asking their parents to do so. Parents attend their children`s wish although many times disregarding "health issues".
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Parents should be aware of what junk food can do to their kids.
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Of course. If the parents let them continually eat these foods of course they're going to grow fat.
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I dont believe that its the parent fault for buying the for the kid in the first place.
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Its the abuse of any food that makes you obese. I agree sodas and chips are not healthy, but so is eating two full plates of healthy food too. Its the number of calories in a day thats the problem.
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