Days after announcing the new Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the FTC released its study, A Review of Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents: Follow-Up Report, on the food and beverage marketing practices directed to children and teens.  The report serves as a follow up to the FTC’s 2008 report on the same topic.  It was approved by the Commission by a 5-0 vote.

The FTC paints a generally positive picture about increased food company participation in the self-regulatory program, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.  The FTC did note though that many companies with significant marketing to children have not yet joined the effort and that there are other areas where additional improvements should be made.  The results of the study were based on numbers from 2009 data.  Some of the highlights were:

  • Total spending on food marketing to youth ages 2-17 dropped by 19.5% since 2006, however spending on new media, such as online and mobile, increased by 50%.
  • Cross-promotional marketing linking foods with children’s movies and TV shows increased from 80 children’s movies and TV shows in 2006 to 120 in 2009.
  • Marketing to children of the most sugary cereals – those with 13 grams or more sugar per serving – was virtually eliminated between 2006 and 2009.
  • Drinks marketed to children and teens were slightly lower in calories in 2009 than in 2006, but still averaged more than 20 grams of added sugar per serving.
  • Food from fast food restaurants marketed to children and teens was lower in calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat in 2009, compared to 2006.
  • “Children’s meals” in fast food restaurants were more nutritious than other meals and main dishes directed to children ages 2-11.

This report marks the FTC’s ongoing efforts to get companies to advertise healthier and more nutritious foods to children and teens.  Last year, the FTC was part of an interagency working group, along with the CDC, FDA, and USDA, tasked with adopting voluntary principles to improve nutritional profiles of foods marketed to children.  While the working group did end up requesting comments on their proposed principles, those efforts eventually stalled and never fully materialized.  Despite the FTC’s good intentions, some may argue that it has no authority over these issues.  Nonetheless, companies who market food and beverages to children and teens should pay close attention to this report, as the FTC’s findings still help to inform about industry practices as a whole.