Friday, December 21, 2012

FTC's New Report On Food Marketing To Kids: Companies Can Do More For Child Health

'Room for improvement,' especially from entertainment industry...
The Federal Trade Commission on Friday announced the results of a comprehensive study of food and beverage industry marketing expenditures and activities directed to children and teens in 2009.  The study, A Review of Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents: Follow-Up Report tracks the progress industry has made since first launching self-regulatory efforts to promote healthier food choices to kids. The agency obtained its data through subpoenas issued to 48 major food and beverage marketers, and found that while overall spending was down 19.5% from 2006, there is plenty of work to be done.

"The encouraging news is that we’re seeing promising signs that food companies are reformulating their products and marketing more nutritious foods to kids, especially among companies participating in industry self-regulatory efforts," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.  

"But there is still room for improvement:  We will look for continued progress by the food industry and greater participation by the entertainment industry."

Food companies allocated $1.79 billion on marketing to youth ages 2-17 in 2009.  Most of the decrease in spending since 2006 came from less spending on television ads to youth.  But food companies increased their spending by 50% to market to children and teens in new media, such as online, mobile, and viral marketing.

The report for the first time also includes an analysis of the nutritional profile of foods marketed to youth.  

"The analysis suggests that industry self-regulation resulted in modest nutritional improvements from 2006 to 2009 within specific food categories heavily marketed to youth, such as cereals, drinks, and fast food kids’ meals," FTC said.

16 member companies of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which represents 90% of all food marketing to children, have committed to stricter nutrition guidelines for children under 12 by the end of 2012.

"Some companies with significant marketing to children still have not joined the effort. The entertainment industry lags farther behind, said Leibowitz.   "With a few exceptions, media companies have not limited licensing of children’s characters and placement of ads during children’s programming to more nutritious foods." 

With the Let's Move! campaign, in 2010 First Lady Michelle Obama called on food and beverage companies to change their marketing practices directed at children.  Mrs. Obama urged food and beverage corporations "to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children."  Mrs. Obama asked executives to make changing the fundamental corporate practices that can encourage child obesity--such as advertising with celebrities and cartoon characters--a "national priority."  

The new FTC report is a follow-up to the Commission’s 2008 report on food marketing requested by Congress.

Key findings on spending and targeting children and teens:

*Total spending on food marketing to youth ages 2-17 dropped from $2.1 billion in 2006 to $1.79 billion in 2009 – a 19.5 percent drop, adjusting for inflation.

*Much of that drop is the result of less spending on television advertising, which also decreased 19.5 percent.  At the same time, however, spending on new media, such as online, mobile, and viral marketing, increased by 50 percent.

*Heavily integrated marketing campaigns, combining traditional media,  Internet, digital marketing, packaging, and other marketing techniques, continue to be the hallmark of food marketing directed at children.

*Cross-promotions linking foods with popular children’s movies and TV characters across all these marketing techniques increased from 80 children’s movies and TV shows in 2006 to 120 in 2009.   Movies like Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, along with TV characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, were used extensively in television advertising, on packaging, in online sweepstakes, and by other means, to promote kids’ meals, frozen desserts, candy, and many other foods to children.

*Research reported by the companies confirmed that food marketing to kids is effective in generating “pester power.”  One company’s research indicated that food ads and packaging were key to children asking for a food item, and 75 percent of parents bought a product for the first time because their child requested it.  Another company found that in-store advertising campaigns using child-targeted, character-based themes outperformed those using mom-targeted themes.

Key findings about the nutritional quality of foods within the product categories most heavily marketed to children or teens, include:

*Cereals marketed to children ages 2-11 in 2009 had less sugar than in 2006 (a 0.9 gram decrease) and slightly more whole grain (an increase of 1.6 grams, or one-tenth of one serving).  Marketing to children of the most sugary cereals – those with 13 grams or more sugar per serving – was virtually eliminated between 2006 and 2009. 

*Cereals marketed to children using licensed characters and other cross-promotions had less than half the whole grain of cereal marketed without cross-promotions.

*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. 

*Most of the improvement came from drinks marketed and sold in schools, as the result of a self-regulatory program launched in 2006 by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the American Beverage Association.

*Water and 100 percent juice continued to make up only a small percentage of drinks marketed to children and teens in 2009 (16 percent of drinks marketed to children, and 8 percent of drinks marketed to teens).

*The FTC found that Quick Service Restaurant food, or fast food, marketed to both children and teens was lower in calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat in 2009 than in 2006. 

*Restaurant menu items specifically identified as “children’s meals” were more nutritious than other QSR meals and main dishes marketed to children ages 2-11.

*Pledge companies participating in the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (a self-regulatory program run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus) marketed more nutritious products to children than restaurants that did not participate in this self-regulatory program.