Industry Monitoring Required for Virtual Kids Food Marketing Loophole

Articles
June 18, 2010

Industry Monitoring Required for Virtual Kids Food Marketing Loophole

The ongoing debate of food advertising to children in the U.S. and abroad, focused solely on the television, created a loophole for marketers who’ve taken their mission to another flickering screen in most American homes – the computer.

The ongoing debate of food advertising to children in the U.S. and abroad, focused solely on the television, created a loophole for marketers who’ve taken their mission to another flickering screen in most American homes – the computer.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis researchers investigating online "advergames" – a blend of interactive animation, video content and advertising – found this new media is being used to promote corporate branding and products, particularly high-fat, high-sugar foods. The findings were published in the May edition of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
 
It’s a slippery slope to be reaching for these loopholes in a time when both the public and private sector are rallying to go beyond food guidelines, calling for true dedication to nutritional education and lifestyle changes.
 
Researchers found that nearly a third of the virtual advertising messages including websites were for food and 84 percent of the websites assessed included online games, which included at least one brand identifier.
 
According to the report, only one nutrition or physical activity message appeared on average for every 45 brand identifiers. Researches noted that some games used candy or cereal as game pieces, while others would require special codes – available only by buying a specific cereal – to advance to higher game levels.
 
The study, funded by the Cancer Research Program, concluded that regulations of food companies targeting youths are needed.
 
Earlier this year a study by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that cereals marketed to children have 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber and 60 percent more sodium than cereals advertised to adults, according to a report in theChicago Tribune.
 
Last year UC Davis researchers concluded children are being bombarded by junk food advertising. Researchers found that children's networks exposed viewers to 76 percent more food commercials per hour than other networks.??In addition, more than 70 percent of those food commercials were for fast-food restaurants, sugary food, chips/crackers or sugar-added beverages. They recorded an average of 7.7 food commercials per hour or one every eight minutes. In contrast, fruits, vegetables, and juices were advertised in only 1.7 percent of the commercials.
 
One interesting response to all of this comes from the federal government itself. The Federal Trade Commission created its own online game for kids, called Admongo [http://www.admongo.gov/], that gives children an ‘aducation’ helping them to understand the difference between someone trying to tell them something and someone trying to sell them something.
 
While the FTC’s site works toward educating children about the message behind the advertisements, experts are calling for a more strict oversight of advertising practices. The food and beverage industry has taken voluntary steps in this direction, but perhaps the FTC could lend a hand by encouraging the food industry to regulate its own advertising practices more stringently by providing incentives for voluntary initiatives.