She's also encouraged by the comprehensive nature of media outlets covered by the guidelines. Although television still dominates in food advertising, the Internet and other forms of electronic media are increasingly influential, particularly among preteens and teenagers. In a recent report on fast food advertising from the Rudd Center, the researchers found that McDonald's now has 13 different websites for children and teenagers. Eight of the 12 fast-food chains analyzed had created mobile phone apps accessible by teenagers, and nearly all fast-food chains have pages on Facebook and other social media sites. "The [FTC] restrictions on social media are going to be huge," she says. "It's being used to really push products to people who have expressed an interest in them, so there's lots of couponing, special offers, deals, really designed to incentivize people to purchase a product right away." In that way, she says, the ads are more powerful than a simple 30-second TV commercial. "The other part of it is the viral features," she says. "The fact that kids can let their friends know that they like Coke and that they like Burger King really taps into that age group's need for peer acceptance and need for fitting in. That's the one thing we find especially disturbing about social media."
To protect your kids from this onslaught of food marketing, try this:
• Make your TV time non-commercial. No children should be watching more than two hours of television a day, but when they are watching TV, stick with PBS (or other forms of non-commercial programming) and videos. "There was one great study that showed that the relationship between TV viewing and obesity only occurs when the TV viewing is commercial TV," Harris says. "It supports the claims that the TV commercials are leading to obesity." Rent videos or DVDs from the library, and if there's a particular TV series your children like, rent it by the season (commercial free) through Netflix.
• Keep children's bedrooms screen free. It's much more difficult to monitor what your children are doing online—and any advertisements they're getting sucked into—when both they and their computers are locked up in the bedrooms, Harris says. Same goes for television. "Also, kids who have electronic media in the bedroom are more likely to be overweight," she adds. "There are lots of negatives."
• Monitor food marketing in your schools and community. It's hard to convince your children that soda is bad when there's a soda machine at school. "Anything sold in schools is, in a way, an endorsement of that product," Harris says. "If it's sold at schools, kids don't think it's that bad." Likewise, it can be hard to argue that a local fast-food joint is unhealthy if that same fast-food joint is sponsoring your kids' soccer team. Keep an eye out for these sorts of unexpected marketing gimmicks, Harris adds. Talk to other parents, or join your school's PTA so you can keep the influence of food marketers to a minimum.
Published on: May 13, 2011
Updated on: May 15, 2011