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Food Marketing Expenditures Aimed at Youth: Putting the Numbers in Context

Powell LM, Harris JL, and Fox T. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45(4):453-461, 2013.

Background: In response to concerns about childhood obesity, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released two reports documenting food and beverage marketing expenditures to children and adolescents. The recently released 2012 report found an inflation-adjusted 19.5% reduction in marketing expenditures targeted to youth from $2.1 billion in 2006 to $1.8 billion in 2009. The current article highlights features of the FTC’s analysis, examines how expenditures relate to youth exposure to food marketing, and assesses changes in the nutritional content of marketed products.

Of the $304.0 million decline in expenditures, $117.8 million (38.7%) was from a decline in premium (i.e., restaurant children’s meal toys) expenditures rather than direct marketing. Although inflation-adjusted TV expenditures fell by 19.4%, children and teens still see 12–16 TV advertisements (ads)/day for products generally high in saturated fat, sugar, or sodium. In addition, newer digital forms of unhealthy food and beverage marketing to youths are increasing; the FTC reported an inflation-adjusted 50.7% increase in new media marketing expenditures.

The self-regulatory Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) is limited in scope and effectiveness: expenditures increased for many noncovered marketing techniques (i.e., product placement, movie/video, cross-promotion licenses, athletic sponsorship, celebrity fees, events, philanthropy, and other); only two restaurants are members of CFBAI, and nonpremium restaurant marketing expenditures were up by $86.0 million (22.5% inflation-adjusted increase); industry pledges do not protect children aged 4-11 years, and some marketing appears to have shifted to older children; and, nutritional content remains poor. Continued monitoring of and improvements to food marketing to youth are needed.

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