How Foods Marketed to Kids Fell Short

Food advertised to children did not meet government nutrition standards in many cases

(RxWiki News) As concern about obesity and health grows, many adults are becoming more informed about nutrition. Children, however, might not be exposed to the healthiest of food products.

A new study found that around half of the products approved by the food industry to be advertised to kids did not meet governmental nutrition standards for these products.

"Children see 10 to 13 food-related advertisements per day on television, half of which air during programs specifically for children," explained the authors of this study, led by Rebecca M. Schermbeck, MPH, MS, RD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Tina Marinaccio, MS, a certified personal trainer (CPT) and registered dietitian (RD) from Morristown, NJ, told dailyRx News that snacks don't have to be synonymous with sugar.

"When we think snacks, we often think of sugar laden processed foods such as cookies, candy, and cake," she said. "For wholesome and nutritious snacks, think outside the box. Kids will often accept vegetables if they are crunchy, and they love to dip. Offering a variety of colorful sweet veggies like carrots, grape tomatoes, and snap peas to dip in ranch dressing or hummus.

"Kids also like finger foods. When you make chicken, take a few extra strips and prep skewers for the next day to offer with BBQ or peanut sauce. Steam edamame and dust with sea salt. Set up a fruit kabob bar — Have them skewer cut up fruit, roll in yogurt, then in granola or chopped nuts."

Dr. Marinaccio continued, "They will be more accepting of snacks they have helped prepare. Dip apple slices in almond butter, or serve pear slices with a wedge of cheese. Mix popcorn with a small handful of dark chocolate chips. For finger food desserts, whirl crushed pineapple and yogurt in the blender and freeze in ice pop molds, or saute sliced bananas in a little unrefined oil, and add chopped walnuts and a little maple syrup. Roll in a whole grain tortilla and slice into bite size pieces."

Schermbeck and team wanted to see if the food products kids were exposed to lived up to nutrition guidelines.

To do so, they looked at a list of 407 products approved for advertising on children's TV programs by the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) in April 2014. The CFBAI is a voluntary food industry program aimed at encouraging healthier choices for children under 12.

These researchers compared these products to nutrition guidelines for products advertised to children put forth by the Interagency Working Group (IWG), a government group composed of the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture.

Schermbeck and team gathered nutrition data on the CFBAI-approved products through sources like company websites and store shelves. They compared this data to the IWG's nutrient guidelines. The IWG limits nutrients like saturated fat, sugar and sodium.

These researchers found that 53 percent of the 407 products on the CFBAI list did not meet the IWG's guidelines on one or more nutrients to limit.

Sugar was the main offender, with 32 percent of the products not meeting the sugar limits.

Around 23 percent of the products did not meet saturated fat limit guidelines. Fifteen percent did not meet sodium limit guidelines. However, almost all of the products (99 percent) met the guidelines for trans fat.

"Companies manufacture food and beverage products that meet IWG recommendations; however, these are not the products most heavily marketed to children," Schermbeck and team wrote.

CFBAI has its own guidelines for products it approves. These guidelines differ in some ways from those put forth by the IWG. For instance, the CFBAI tends to suggest ranges of nutrient limits, while the IWG limits tend to be more strict.

The CFBAI limits on sugar per unit of measure range from 2 grams to 25 grams, depending on the product category. The IWG suggests limiting sugar to 13 grams per unit of measure across all product categories.

"Both the new CFBAI and IWG recommendations are aligned with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and have been developed with input from nutritionists and scientists; the IWG recommendations are more stringent overall," Schermbeck and team noted.

This study was published online April 23 in the CDC's Preventing Chronic Disease.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Bridging the Gap program funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 22, 2015