By Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Dec. 15, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Young children in the United States are still seeing TV ads for foods and beverages even though major food companies had promised not to target preschoolers, a new study finds.
Experts say children younger than 6 can't distinguish between advertising and other types of information and therefore should not be exposed to any advertising.
In 2006, a number of major food and beverage companies and fast food restaurants voluntarily pledged to avoid advertising their products to children younger than 6.
However, the new study from the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that children 2 to 5 years old still see TV ads from these companies daily (an average of 1.6 a day) because they watch programs and networks that are also popular with older children.
The study found that these food and beverage ads appeal to children younger than 6 as much as they appeal to those ages 6 to 11.
Preschoolers also were less likely to have tried the advertised products before seeing the ads, which the researchers said makes them more likely to be influenced by the ads.
"Food companies and media companies airing children's programming should do more to protect young children from advertising that takes advantage of their vulnerabilities," said study lead author Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the center.
"At a minimum food companies should not advertise during programming where children under age 6 are likely to see their ads, regardless of whether older children are also watching," she said in a university news release.
"Media companies that broadcast children's TV programming also could take action, such as the Walt Disney Company's initiative to establish nutrition standards for food advertising to children on its networks," Harris said.
The study was published online recently in the journal Appetite.