JAMA logoChildren are known to love sweets however it is surprising to observe children are more inclined to fast foods. Children viewed few television advertisements for certain foods namely sweets and beverages in 2007 as compared to 2003. Racial gaps in exposure to all food advertising has augmented; however children now watch more fast-food advertisements.

Experts revealed that television advertising influences short-term eating habits among children aged between 2 and 11. They have limited data on the evidence that advertising affects general dietary intake. An effort called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative aimed at advertising healthier products and healthy lifestyle.

Authors share, “Given that each company defined their own better-for-you products and also had different definitions of what constituted children’s programming, key questions remain.”

Experts examined television ratings data collected from Nielsen Media Research specifically for 2003, 2005 and 2007. This was mainly done to evaluate trends in food advertising before and after the initiative. They observed that among children aged between 2 and 5 daily average exposures to televised food ads lowered by 13.7 percent and among children aged between 6 and 11, a reduction by 3.7 percent was observed.

They further revealed that exposure augmented by 3.7 percent among teens aged between 12 and 17. Ads for sweets became less frequent and there was a 41 percent decrease in exposure for 2-5 year olds, 29.3 percent for 6-11 year olds and 12.1 percent for 12-17 year olds. Beverage ads were also observed to lower by 27-30 percent among the same age groups. There was substantial decrease in exposure to ads for previously heavily advertised sugar-sweetened beverages.

Authors reveal, “Indeed, children have been found to recognize brand logos at very young ages and a recent study found that preschoolers exhibited significantly higher preferences for food and beverage items in branded vs. plain packaging”.

Exposure to fast food ads were observed to augment between 2003 and 2007 with 4.7 percent increase in viewings among children aged between 2 and 5, 12.2 percent among children 6 to 11 and 20.4 percent among teens age 12 to 17. The significance of branding is highlighted through high prevalence of these ads.

Authors elucidate, “In particular, African American children and teens had more than double the rate of increase in exposure to fast food ads compared with their white counterparts. A number of positive changes have occurred in children’s exposure to food advertising. Continued monitoring of children’s television food ad exposure along with nutritional assessments of advertised products will improve understanding of the extent to which self-regulation can translate into a reduction in the promotion of unhealthy food products”.

Between 2003 and 2007 racial gap in advertising increased. By 2007 African American children viewed 1.2-1.6 times food ads per day as compared to white children depending on their age.

These findings are according to a report posted online and will appear in the September print issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.