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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
Advertising and promotion have long been intrinsic to the marketing of the American food supply (Gallo, 1999). Food and beverage companies and the restaurant industry together represent the second-largest advertising group in the American economy, after the automotive industry (Gallo, 1999), and young people are a major target. The annual sales of foods and beverages to young consumers exceeded $27 billion in 2002 (U.S. Marketfor Kids Foods and Beverages, 2003), and millions of dollars are spent annually by the food and beverage industry for specific product brands (Story and French, 2004). Food and beverage advertisers collectively spend $10 billion to $12 billion annually to reach children and youth (Nestle, 2003a; Brownell, 2004). Estimates are available for different categories of youth-focused marketing in the United States—more than $1 billion is spent on media advertising to children, primarily on television; more than $4.5 billion is spent on youth-targeted promotions such as premiums, coupons, sweepstakes, and contests; $2 billion is spent on youth-targeted public relations; and $3 billion is spent on packaging designed for children (McNeal, 1999).
Similarly, young people are major consumers of the products and services of the entertainment, leisure, and recreation industries. An accurate figure for children’s and adolescents’ comprehensive media and entertainment use is not readily available, though market research suggests there is great potential for the growth of this market; children are being raised in a technology-oriented culture that exposes them to modern media conveniences as noted above (Rideout et al., 2003; U.S. Kids Lifestyles Market Research, 2003). For example, it was projected that $4.2 billion would be spent on children’s videos in 2001 (Children’s Video Market, 1997) and on a typical day, children aged 4 to 6 years used computers (27 percent) and video games (16 percent) (Rideout et al., 2003).
The quantity and nature of advertisements to which children are exposed to daily, reinforced through multiple media channels, appear to contribute to food, beverage, and sedentary-pursuit choices that can adversely affect energy balance. It is estimated that the average child currently views more than 40,000 commercials on television each year, a sharp increase from 20,000 commercials in the 1970s (Kunkel, 2001). Studies of children’s advertising content during that roughly 20-year period found that more than 80 percent of all advertising to children fell into four product categories: toys, cereal, candy, and fast food restaurants (Kunkel, 2001). Moreover, an accumulated body of research reveals that more than 50 percent of television advertisements directed at children promote foods and beverages such as candy, fast food, snack foods, soft drinks, and sweetened breakfast cereals that are high in calories and fat, low in fiber, and low in nutrient density (Kotz and Story, 1994; Gamble and Cotunga, 1999; Horgen et al., 2001; Hastings et al., 2003).