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Junk food ads, sugary rewards lead to fatter kids
Ads for junk food lead to fatter children

Date published: 4/6/2008

THERE IS a worldwide movement to shield children from ads for junk food. Although junk food is not the only cause of obesity, advertising for junk foods is linked to weight gain.

Today, twice as many American kids are overweight as in the 1980s, and many kids already have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

This month, two groups--the International Obesity Taskforce and Consumers International--proposed limiting ads for junk foods that target children.

They suggest:

A ban on TV and radio ads for junk food between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.;

No marketing of junk food on Web sites, social networking sites and cell phone text-messaging;

No promotion of unhealthy food in schools;

No inclusion of free gifts, toys or other collectibles that are attractive to children;

No use of celebrities, cartoon characters or competitions.

Advertising today is more subtle than the jingles I fondly remember from my childhood, such as the Oscar Mayer wiener song. Now, popular movie and TV characters like Dora the Explorer also appear on food packages.

"It's as if that whole television program is an ad for the Dora cookies," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group in Washington. "As a mom, I know for sure that marketing works, because many a time [at the grocery store], my daughter reaches over for a box with one of her favorite characters on it, and she has no idea of what's in that box."

More subtle advertising affects kids too, such as movie shots that zoom in on products. Back in 1982, it was reported that sales of Reese's Pieces candies skyrocketed after being featured in the movie "E.T., The Extra Terrestrial."

Children start requesting foods by brand name by the age of 24 months, according to published studies from University of Minnesota researchers.

Marketers count on the "nag factor" or "pester power"--kids begging their parents to buy. Parents give in about half the time.

Children ages 2 to 7 see an average of 12 food ads a day on TV, nearly 30 hours per year, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. Most ads are for soft drinks, sugary cereals, candy, snacks and fast food.

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Children ages 2 to 7 see an average of 12 food ads a day on TV, nearly 30 hours per year