Companies Get Poor Grades for Kids' Food Ads
Report by Consumer Group Finds Many Companies Promote Unhealthy Foods to Kids
March 9, 2010 -- Most companies lack meaningful policies to curb the
marketing of high-fat and high-sugar junk food to children, according to a
report by a consumer watchdog group.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) gives failing grades to
nearly three-quarters of the 128 food, restaurant, and media companies it
investigated. The group is concerned that food marketers continue to
aggressively promote unhealthy foods to children despite high obesity rates and regulators' pleas to rein in ads.
Packaged food companies performed much better than media firms or
restaurants, the group says. But the report finds that overall 68% of the
companies have no policy governing marketing to kids.
Many companies signed onto a voluntary self-regulation system after the
regulators fielded complaints about aggressive junk food advertising and the
licensing of characters and movies to make junk food more attractive to
In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission found that companies spent $870
million marketing food to children under 12. An additional $1 billion went to
marketing aimed at adolescents. Two years earlier, "cross-promotions tied foods
and beverages to about 80 movies, television shows, and animated characters
that appeal primarily to children," the commission said in a report published
in July 2008.
The agency urged food, restaurant, and media companies to come up with
comprehensive policies controlling junk food marketing to kids.
"If companies were marketing bananas and broccoli, we wouldn't be concerned.
But instead, most of the marketing is for sugary cereals, fast food, snack
foods, and candy. And this junk food marketing is a major contributor to childhood
obesity," says Margo G. Wootan, CSPI's nutrition policy director.
Curbing Food Ads to Kids
The group gave its highest grade of B+ to Mars Inc. The companies with
grades of B were Procter & Gamble Company and Qubo Venture, a media company
that places Saturday morning programming on NBC, Telemundo, and other networks.
Several food companies, including Mars, Procter & Gamble, and Cadbury
Adams, have policies calling for no advertising to children under 12.
Six companies got a B-, 17 got a C+, C, or C-, seven companies got a D+ or
D, none received a D-, and 95 received an F. The complete report
card is published on CSPI's web site.
"In 2007 shortly after the launch of the Qubo kids channel, we established
very stringent nutritional guidelines for advertising only healthy foods to
children," Brandon Burgess, chairman and CEO of ION Media Networks, the Qubo
Channel's parent company, says in a statement.
But many companies advertise not directly through television, but more
indirectly through product tie-ins, online games, and event sponsorships, the
It found that while two-thirds of food companies had child-targeted
marketing polices, only one-quarter of restaurants and one-fifth of
entertainment companies had the policies. And while many of those policies lay
out nutritional standards for licensing characters for food ads, fewer impose
strict rules for what kind of foods can be advertised, the CSPI report
WebMD made calls to several trade associations to get their reaction to the
CSPI report. None responded in time for publication.