Television ads are ubiquitous, with children seeing ads for particular products up to an average of 97 times in 2014. For children, the ads are filled with fun characters and humor. Parents see almost that number of commercials for kids’ food products, but the adult versions of the advertisements tend to promote family bonding and nutrition.
A new study used a database of all television commercials for packaged food and drinks in the US between 2013 and 2014. They separated products for children advertised on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and other children’s channels from ads for these same products aired on other adult channels.
The researchers found that 25 of 51 children’s food products focused on parents, with parental actors and children hugging, kissing and playing. Of the air time for ads for kids’ products, 42% of the time parents were targeted.
“It is a dual-pronged approach where food manufacturers are targeting kids to pester (their parents) for these products, and then manufacturers are marketing to parents to get them to think these products are healthy and not to feel guilty about buying them,” said Jennifer A. Emond, epidemiology instructor at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine. Emond is the lead author of the study, which was published on Sunday in the journal Pediatrics.
A recent report from the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity stated that many products advertised to kids, such as juice beverages with sugar and sugar-sweetened cereals, do not meet federal standards for healthy snacks.
Corey Basch, an associate professor of public health at William Paterson University, says the findings are disturbing but not surprising. In fact, advertising targeted at parents is increasing in a broad range of products including food, beverages, toothpaste and vitamins.
The research team did not delve into whether the parent-directed ads influenced what parents bought, but they theorize that the ads would result in manipulating purchases and are looking to use this as the basis for their next examination.
Robert Preidt reports for HealthDay that parent-directed ads included lifestyle themes surrounding the ingestion of the products even though physicians link them to obesity, dental decay, and other health problems.
Could these advertising techniques keep parents from identifying healthy foods for their kids? That is a question Emond wants to answer.
The study, titled “Children’s Food and Beverage Promotion on Television to Parents,” writes Madeline Sturgeon for the American Association of Pediatrics Publications, showed that parents want to do the right thing. It is no wonder that the commercials influence parents.
The Inter-agency Working Group, a federal organization that works on improving the quality of foods advertised to children on television, says these foods do not meet nutritional guidelines set by the group.
Some of the limitations of the study, according to the authors, include the fact that it did not consider advertisements for restaurants or ads targeting adolescents. Also, the research examined only television advertising, not newer media such as the Internet and social media, which are frequently used by parents and children.
Dr. Emond said pediatricians can advise parents on a healthy diet for kids and warn parents to be skeptical of commercial claims by being more attentive to product nutrition.