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Watchdog Group: Reduce Junk Food Ads For Kids

Advocates Say Junk Food Ads Make Obesity Epidemic Worse

Overwhelming Parents?

Industry groups responded Thursday that the guidelines unfairly focus on one narrow aspect of an obesity problem that has complex and wide-ranging causes. A statement issued by the Grocery Manufacturers of America said that the guidelines "miss the point."

"Effective solutions must incorporate sound nutrition, increased physical activity, consumer and parent education, and community support. Above all, the focus should be on giving parents the information they need to ensure their children eat a nutritionally balanced diet and get the right amount of physical activity," the statement said.

Daniel J. Jaffe, chief lobbyist for the Association of National Advertisers, Inc. tells WebMD that regardless of advertising, parents still have the final say over what children consume. "If kids say they want something, the parent can say no," he says.

Consumer advocates complain that industry advertising has reached the point where it overwhelms parents' ability to monitor what their children eat. Children are now exposed to an average of 58 advertising television messages per day, about half of which push food products, according to the CSPI. Many more pitches arrive over the Internet and in movie product placements, they say.

"Parental authority is undermined by wide discrepancies between what parents tell their children is healthful to eat and what marketing promotes as desirable to eat," the guidelines state.

American firms doubled their child-directed advertising from $6.9 billion to $15 billion per year between 1992 and 2002, says James McNeal, PhD, president of the McNeal & Kids advertising consulting firm and a former professor of marketing at Texas A&M University. Between one-third and one-half of those dollars are spent by food and beverage makers, he tells WebMD.

Industry groups point out that the average number of television commercials broadcast to kids per hour has not changed over the last decade.

McNeal says that children are "potentially getting more opportunities to view ads" mostly because of largely unmeasured advertising on web sites and in widespread cross-marketing that ties foods to entertainment products kids enjoy.

"The only way marketing gets in the door is when the parents turn the house over to the marketers," he says. "The parents have ceded the household to marketers gradually but surely."

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