A US parents' advocacy group reports that most top food brands advertising on television have parallel websites directly targeted at children.

The Kaiser Family Foundation study looked at 77 websites geared towards youngsters under the age of twelve. It reveals that 85% of the top 96 food brands use websites to reach kids - a finding that will add grist to the mill for those concerned about rising childhood obesity and diabetes.

The report, which does not take sides but analyzes current trends in food advertising on the web, also shows 65% of the sites use sweepstakes and promotions; 25% offer membership; and 53% offer online access to TV ads.

Comments Kaiser Foundation vp Vicky Rideout: "Online advertising still lags far behind television but it is growing rapidly. It's a field that's really changing at breakneck speed."

Industry guidelines state ad content should be clearly identified on product-driven websites, but the Foundation found only 18% of those it studied informed children that content included advertising.

The report says 51% of websites provide nutritional information for their products, 35% have some educational information and 33% have what the report calls "advercation" - education information directly relating to the product, like a history of chocolate on Hershey's site.

Advertisers respond that food websites aimed at children remain a tiny part of the overall marketing mix, and that reasons for increased childhood obesity are complex.

They also maintain that advertisers are changing what they do, citing efforts by the Children's Advertising Review Unit to rewrite rules regarding kid-targeted ads along with marketer efforts to sell healthier products to youngsters.

Nancy Daigler, vp-corporate and government affairs at Kraft Foods, says her company, which is now advertising healthier products on TV, radio and print to children, is re-evaluating its internet sites and expects to implement changes before the end of the year.

Data sourced from Adweek (USA); additional content by WARC staff