Mason professor finds TV ads target junk food; supports the FTC’s new guidelines
Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the United States, yet Tony the Tiger and Toucan Sam still happily hawk their wares to youngsters. To combat this conundrum, a working group of federal agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, issued a voluntary set of guidelines last spring aimed at curbing commercials that market unhealthy foods to children.
But now those voluntary guidelines are facing opposition in Congress. Some Republicans are requesting further research by the FTC into the potential costs and impacts of the guidelines before implementing them, according to an Associated Press story.
Mason associate professor Michael Mink, who has been studying what he calls “nutrition messages on TV,” thinks the FTC guidelines are a good next step. In his research, he is currently analyzing the nutritional value of foods marketed during children’s shows but has also studied the nutritional value of foods marketed during primetime television. He’s found that commercials have a bias toward foods that are high in sugar, fat and sodium.
“Our research found that a 2,000-calorie diet consisting of foods advertised during primetime television would contain 25 times the daily recommended servings of sugar and 20 times the daily servings of fat, less than half a day’s servings of dairy, fruit and vegetables,” says Mink.
“This same diet would oversupply 8 nutrients, including sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat, while undersupplying 12 other nutrients, including fiber, iron and vitamins A, D and E,” he continues.
This study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, also found that the diet advertised on television was very similar to the diet of most Americans. “So it is very possible that televised food ads are an important influence in the common American diet,” says Mink. “Since the average American will see about 15,000 food ads every year, any bias toward unhealthy foods in these ads will very likely have an impact on consumer behavior.”
Mink is now evaluating commercials aired during Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons—prime TV viewing time for children—and has found an even greater imbalance.
“Preliminary results show that a 2,000-calorie diet consisting of these foods would provide 100 times the daily recommended servings of sugar and 2.5 times the daily servings of fat, but less than a third of the day’s supply of vegetables, meat, dairy, and fruit,” Mink says.
“In fact, the observed food ads did not contain a single serving of fruit. Likewise, this diet would supply less than half the day’s supply of 11 different nutrients,” he says.
As to the argument that the government is overstepping its boundaries by making these voluntary guidelines, Mink points out, “The role of government is to protect the public from harm. There is plenty of research to show that the foods advertised on television are often nutritionally imbalanced and that televised food ads do influence nutrition behavior. Together, this research suggests a serious public health risk.”
Mink also points out that many other countries—including the United Kingdom, France and parts of Scandinavia—have already restricted food advertising or outlawed marketing junk food to children. “We are just taking a single step in a direction where many countries have taken major strides,” says Mink.
To speak with Mink about his ongoing research about junk food marketing or his comments on the fervor surrounding the voluntary FTC guidelines, contact Media Relations Manager Leah Kerkman Fogarty at email@example.com or 703-993-8781.