According to lead researcher Melanie Hingle from the University of Arizona, it isn’t a surprise at all that most foods shown on commercials on children’s TV shows do not comply with previously proposed nutrition guidelines for kids under 12. “It’s very politically charged,” said Hingle in an interview with Reuters Health. “The take home message is really not about what would be or could be, but that this independent group of experts in different communities said these are guidelines that make sense nutritionally, and hardly any of these ads meet these guidelines.” She added that current food ads on kids’ TV programs “are not passing any kind of muster.”
It was in 2011 when an Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children (IWG) had proposed nutritional standards for foods advertised to children. This group consisted of several federal agencies, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Agriculture, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration. Their proposal was that foods would be limited to just one gram or less of saturated fat, less than 0.05 grams of trans fat, 210 milligrams or less of sodium, and 13 grams or less of added sugars, all on a per-serving basis.
As compliance was to be voluntary, results of Hingle’s study are disappointing, if a bit mixed in some regards. Based on recordings of 103 children’s TV shows, with a sampling of 354 food ads shown between February and April 2013, 90 percent met IWG’s guidelines for trans fat. Only 60 to 70 percent met sodium and saturated fat guidelines, while a paltry 20 percent met the added sugar guidelines. All told, just two percent of these ads met each and every IWG guideline.
“These companies make a lot of healthy, high quality foods as well, if they could just shift their advertising,” said Hingle. “Advertising does influence kids’ asking behaviors and consumption.”