New Study Finds That Food Is the Top Product Seen Advertised by Children

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 and agencies such as the Institute of Medicine 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 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.

Physical Activity Portrayed. Fifteen percent of all food ads targeting children or teens include depictions of a physically active lifestyle, such as showing children skateboarding, snowboarding, or playing basketball.

The study also measured children’s exposure to public service messages on fitness or nutrition. Children 2-7 and 8-12 see an average of one such message every 2-3 days (164 a year). Teens 13-17 see just one such message per week, for an average of 47 per year. On the other hand, 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. Teens see the most food ads on TV, an average of 21 ads a day, or more than 7,600 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.