July 18, 2007
Limiting Ads of Junk Food to Children
Trix are no longer for kids — at least not on children’s television shows. But Cocoa Puffs are
Trying to persuade critics the industry does not need government regulation, 11 big food
, have agreed to stop advertising
to children under 12 products that do not meet certain nutritional standards. Some of the
, have already withdrawn all such commercials or are in the process of
doing so. Others, like
, said they would withdraw them over the next year or so, while
a handful agreed to expand their self-imposed bans to radio, print and Internet advertising.
Still, the agreements will probably amount to a ripple rather than a sea change in terms of what
foods children see pitched on their favorite television shows and Web sites. For example, while
General Mills will no longer be advertising Trix to the 12-and-under crowd, it will continue to peddle
Cocoa Puffs, which have one less gram of sugar per serving. And it will be able to continue
advertising Trix on television shows and other media that are considered to cater to “families”
rather than just children.
That qualifier amounts to a major loophole, given the media-watching habits of children. An
episode of Nickelodon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants,” for instance, is viewed by an average
audience of 876,000 children age 6 to 11, according to Nielsen Media Research, and falls in the
category of shows that are off-limits to ads for junk food. But “American Idol” from Fox, which
qualifies as a family show, attracts 2.1 million children in the age group.
The companies have also agreed for the first time to open their marketing plans to the Council of
Better Business Bureaus and its Children’s Advertising Review Unit, which will review them and
report publicly on the findings. This scrutiny and the pledges to self-regulate, which will be
announced at a Federal Trade Commission event today, are an attempt to show corporate
responsiveness to growing concerns about childhood obesity.
“We are hopeful that people will look at this and say that the community has done a substantial,