Redefining "Child-Directed Advertising" to Reduce Unhealthy Television Food Advertising to Children

Food and beverage companies have pledged to reduce unhealthy marketing to children through the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), but their pledges only apply to certain types of marketing.

Currently, the CFBAI only covers TV advertisements during shows in which children make up 35 percent or more of the viewing audience. Because of this restriction, the extent to which marketing of unhealthy foods to children has been decreased is unknown.

The authors analyzed 2010 Nielsen data to quantify the proportion of unhealthy food advertising that is covered by the current initiative guidelines. They analyzed the percentage of the audience made of children ages 2-11 and the number of food and beverage advertisements viewed by children.

Key Findings:

  • Just under half of food and beverage advertisements viewed by children were not covered by CFBAI guidelines because they appeared during programs where children made up less than 35 percent of the viewing audience.
  • If the CFBAI standards were revised to apply to advertisements for shows with viewing audiences of greater than 20 percent children or more than 100,000 children, they would cover 70 percent of food advertisements viewed by children.

Food advertising to children is an important public health concern due to the childhood obesity epidemic. Current CFBAI guidelines apply to approximately half of food advertisements seen by children. Revisions to the criteria for inclusion to CFBAI guidelines would increase the scope of the CFBAI initiative.