Study Shows Uneven Progress on Youth Exposure to Food Advertising

Bridging the Gap research finds children and teens viewing fewer ads for snacks and drinks, more ads for fast food.

    • July 6, 2010

A new study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine shows that children and teens are seeing fewer television advertisements for fruit drinks, regular soda and sweets such as candy, cookies and pastries—but substantially more TV ads for fast-food restaurants.

Between 2003 and 2007, for example, young children saw 23 percent fewer TV ads for cereals. Children ages 6-11 saw 29 percent fewer ads for sweets, and adolescents were exposed to 26 percent fewer ads for beverages.

Given the connection between consumption of certain foods and drinks and an increased risk of obesity, lead author Lisa M. Powell, Ph.D., calls the findings encouraging. Powell is a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Bridging the Gap program, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But the higher exposure to fast-food ads, especially among African-American youths, is a decidedly negative trend. During the study period, African-American adolescents viewed nearly a third more TV ads for burgers, pizza, fried chicken and sandwiches sold by nearly a dozen fast-food companies.

In addition, Powell noted, “It seems advertisers are finding alternative ways to build brand loyalty among kids, such as increasing ads for diet soft drinks.”