Psychologists are calling on the US government to restrict marketing to young children.
A report from the American Psychological Association argues that kids below seven or eight years cannot "recognize advertising's persuasive intent", making such marketing "inherently unfair".
The findings are the result of an eighteen-month study by six psychologists into children's reactions to ads. The report estimates that marketers spend more than $12 billion (€9.5bn; £6.4bn) a year reaching kids, with the average child viewing over 40,000 TV ads every twelve months.
"[Young children] comprehend the information contained in television commercials uncritically, accepting most advertising claims and appeals as truthful, accurate and unbiased," the study concluded.
The psychologists believe advertising has helped change eating habits, resulting in the well-documented surge in obesity among the young.
They are also concerned at some ads aimed at adults but seen by children. For example, beer commercials broadcast during sports events are seen by millions of kids, and the report claims that children of nine and ten can become familiar with beer brands and develop positive views of drinking. Similarly, the psychologists are worried that ads for violent films or computer games could increase the chances of kids being aggressive.
Aside from government intervention to protect children, the report calls for disclosures and disclaimers in child-targeted ads to be more easily understandable. It also recommends investigations into the influence of advertising in schools and how young kids are affected by ads on the internet and other new media.
However, the study was condemned by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, whose executive vp Richard O'Brien denounced it as "stunning in its disregard for the forty years of diligence and effort that the advertising industry has put into protecting the special sensibilities of children."
Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff