Children's ads show lots of junk food
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a child's buffet of food commercials, more than 40 percent of the dishes are candy, snacks and fast food. Nowhere to be found: fresh fruit, vegetables, poultry or seafood.
For years, health officials have warned that kids were being inundated with commercials about not-so-healthy foods. Now, researchers have put numbers to those warnings in the largest-ever study of commercials aimed at children.
"The vast majority of the foods that kids see advertised on television today are for products that nutritionists would tell us they need to be eating less of, not more of, if we're going to get a handle on childhood obesity," said Vicky Rideout of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducts health research.
Overall, the foundation's researchers monitored 13 television networks. The viewing took place primarily between late May and early September 2005. They saw 2,613 ads featuring food and drinks that targeted children and teens.
Children ages 8-12 see the most food ads on TV - an average of 21 a day, or 7,600 a year. Teenagers see slightly fewer - 17 a day, or about 6,000 a year; and children ages 2-7 see the fewest - 12 a day or 4,400 a year.
"Since (preteens) are at an age where they're just becoming independent consumers, understanding what type of advertising they are exposed to is especially important," Rideout said.
In December 2005, the Institute of Medicine concluded that marketing practices from the food and beverage industry are out of balance with recommended diets for children and contribute to an environment that puts children's health at risk.
The institute recommended that companies shift their advertising to emphasize food and drink that are substantially lower in calories, fats, salt and sugars.
In November, 11 major food and drink makers, including companies such as McDonald's, The Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., agreed to adopt new voluntary rules for advertising. The companies said they would devote at least half their advertising directed to children to promote healthier diets and lifestyles.
The rules have not gone into effect yet. However, researchers believe that the study released Wednesday will serve as an important benchmark that will help determine whether the voluntary guidelines lead to any significant changes in advertising content.
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the federal government should take a more active role in regulating the content of television ads aimed at children.
"The industry is not as serious about self-regulation as they say they are," Wootan said.
But business leaders asked for patience.
"Give us a chance to see what we can do," said C. Lee Peeler, president and CEO of the National Advertising Review Council, an organization that promotes truth in advertising through voluntary regulation.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he would prefer self-regulation by the advertisers. He said that intervention by the federal government would actually delay the changes in ad content that so many seek. That's because legislation would lead to opposition from various interest groups as well as potential court challenges.
Advertisers also stressed that the content of food ads has already begun to change, with more ads promoting healthy foods and exercise than during 2005.
Sen. Tom. Harkin, D-Iowa, said he hoped the study would also prove helpful to a new Federal Communications Commission task force examining the impact of the media on childhood obesity rates.
"We now have data that conclusively shows kids are seeing an overwhelming number of ads for unhealthy food on all types of TV shows," Harkin said. "The 'childhood obesity epidemic' isn't just a catch phrase. It's a real public health crisis."
The study also recorded the number of public service announcements that children watch on television. The report said that expectations for educational campaigns affecting child obesity rates should be tempered.
Children see few public service announcements compared to food ads. Children under 8 see one announcement on fitness or nutrition for every 26 food ads. For preteens, it's one announcement for every 48 food ads. And for teens, the ratio is one public service announcement for every 130 food ads.
In related news:
http://www.cnn.com/2007/EDUCATION/03.../index.htmlNEW YORK (AP) -- You've read the book, now eat the pizza.
Since 1985, that's been the gist of Pizza Hut's Book It, an incentive program used by 50,000 schools nationwide to reward young readers with free pizzas. The program is now under attack by child-development experts who say it promotes bad eating habits and turns teachers into corporate promoters.
Book It, which reaches about 22 million children a year, "epitomizes everything that's wrong with corporate-sponsored programs in school," said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
"In the name of education, it promotes junk food consumption to a captive audience ... and undermines parents by positioning family visits to Pizza Hut as an integral component of raising literate children," Linn said.
This week, Linn's organization called on parents to end their schools' participation in the long-standing program.
Though some activists have previously questioned Book It, Linn said Friday that only after the recent upsurge of concern over child obesity and junk food did her group feel it could make headway with a formal protest campaign. She said many schools are trying to reduce students' access to soda, and contended that Book It should face similar scrutiny.
But the program -- which has given away more than 200 million pizzas -- has deep roots and many admirers at the highest levels of politics and education. It won a citation in 1988 from President Reagan, and its advisory board includes representatives of prominent education groups, including teachers unions and the American Library Association.
"We're really proud of the program," said Leslie Tubbs, its director for the past five years. "We get hundreds of e-mails from alumni who praise it and say it helped them get started with reading."
Dallas-based Pizza Hut says Book It is the nation's largest reading motivation program -- conducted annually in about 925,000 elementary school classrooms from October 1 through March 31. A two-month program is offered for preschoolers.
Participating teachers set a monthly reading goal for each student; those who meet the goal get a certificate they can redeem at Pizza Hut for a free Personal Pan Pizza. Families often accompany the winners, turning the event into a celebration that can boost business for the restaurant.
Teachers find the program an enjoyable way to build interest in reading, Tubbs said. "We're helping them to do their jobs," she said.
At Strafford Elementary School in Strafford, Missouri, the roughly 500 students collectively read 30,000 books a year with Book It's help, said principal Lucille Cogdill.
"I don't have any negative things at all to say about it," Cogdill said. "I know there's concern about obesity, but Book It is not causing it, and the schools aren't causing it."
Chris Carney, principal at Bennett Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also is a Book It fan, saying it encourages family togetherness and provides a tool for persuading children to try books instead of video games.
"I don't want to see kids gorging pizzas," he said. "But the positive effects outweigh other effects."
Among those campaigning against Book It is Alfie Kohn, an author whose 11 books on education and parenting include "Punished By Rewards", which questions the value of incentive programs.
"The more kids see books as a way to get pizza or some other prize, the less interest they'll have in reading itself," Kohn, a former teacher, said in a telephone interview. "They tend to choose easier books to get through faster."
Another critic of Book It and the broader phenomenon of corporate incursions into schools is Alex Molnar, director of the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at Arizona State University.
He described Book It as a "dreadful program" that puts pressure on parents to celebrate with their reward-winning children at Pizza Huts.
"This is corporate America using the schools as a crow bar to get inside the front doors of students' homes," he said. "It's very hard for children whose parents who don't want to engage in this to not feel ostracized."
Molnar acknowledged that Book It is well-regarded by many educators and politicians, but said it might be reevaluated in light of rising concerns about child obesity.
"To the extent that this program is correctly identified as part of the problem, then there's a chance of reducing its scope," he said.
I think these people need to get off their high horses. One personal pan pizza a month for 6 months is not going to hurt a kid, and the program does work to help get reluctant readers to pick up a book. I know from experience with my own son, and from working with second graders for 9 years.
Kids don't get fat from free pizza in reading programs. They get fat from all the other pizzas that their parents buy for them.
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