- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

1:54 p.m.

Junk food is the most widely advertised product on television programs watched by children, according to a study released today.

More than one-third of commercials targeting children or adolescents are for candy and snacks — often high-fat, sugary foods that are likely to contribute to the ongoing childhood obesity epidemic, says the study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a Washington nonprofit health policy resource organization.

Children influence about $500 billion in annual spending on products such as cereal, candy and fast food, according to a separate National Health Examination survey.

“The study indicates that food marketing is a predominant part of the television advertising landscape for children and that young people’s exposure to such messages is substantial, while their exposure to countervailing health messages on television is minimal,” the Kaiser foundation said.

Youths 8 to 12 years old watch the most food commercials, averaging 21 ads daily, according to the findings. That adds up to 7,600 per year, or nearly 51 hours annually.

Teens 13 to 17 years of age see 17 food ads daily, or more than 6,000 per year, while youngsters 2 to 7 view 12 food ads per day, or 4,400 yearly.

The issue of advertising food to children has come under scrutiny as the number of obese children continues to rise at an alarming rate.

According to the National Health Examination survey, the percentage of overweight children has more than tripled in the past 40 years, and U.S. companies spend $15 billion a year marketing and advertising to children younger than 12, twice the amount spent 10 years ago.

The Kaiser Family Foundation evaluated advertisements to children from 13 networks in 2005, including all genres of programming viewed by children. The study examined 30 times more television programming than has been included in previous studies.

The foundation touts the study as the largest ever conducted of television food advertising to children because it accounts for cable and commercial-free networks such as PBS.

Dan Jaffe, vice president of government affairs for the Association of National Advertisers, disputed the Kaiser Family Foundation’s study because it used 2005 data. Mr. Jaffe said food companies are spending $270 million on public service announcements for healthy eating.

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