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Ads target kids for junk food

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Too many ads push junk food at kids: report
Tue Dec 6, 2005 11:13 AM ET

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most food and drink advertising to children promotes unhealthy choices and can lead to poor diets, experts said on Tuesday in a report recommending that the government step in if the industry doesn't act.

"Food and beverage marketing ... is a likely contributor to less healthful diets, and may contribute to negative diet-related health outcomes and risks among children and youth," they said in a report by the Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit body that advises the government.

Last year, the food and beverage industry spent about $11 billion in advertising, including $5 billion on television commercials, mostly for products high in calories but with little nutritional value, according to the report.

Children were a willing audience for the ads.

Data showed promotions led children ages 2 to 11 to ask for certain products, and kids aged 4 and younger could not tell the difference between television advertisements and programming, the report said. Those 8 and younger did not understand that commercials are meant to persuade.

The impact on teen-agers was less clear, because too little research has been done, the report found.

The team of nearly 20 medical and media academics came to its conclusions after a year reviewing 123 published studies and industry information, at a time when more Americans, of all ages, are getting fatter.

About 16 percent of U.S. children and teen-agers, or more than 9 million, are obese -- compared with five percent in the 1960s.

The number of young people with type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, also is on the rise.

Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who pushed for legislation requiring the $1 million study, said the "report proves that the onslaught of junk food marketing is endangering the health of our children."

The experts also found companies are increasingly targeting children through the Internet, product placement, and other activities.

The group called for a nationwide campaign to educate families about healthy foods and expanded industry guidelines that monitor the Internet and other nontraditional ad venues.

If industry efforts do not work, Congress should step in to force companies to promote healthier choices, it said. U.S. health officials should monitor the problem and provide an update in two years.

Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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