WASHINGTON, DC: Prompted by growing alarm at rising rates of child obesity in the US, the Federal Trade Commission this week released the most comprehensive study to date of food and beverage marketing to children aged between 2-17. 

The report is based on mandatory input from forty-four major food and beverage companies who were required to release detailed data on their 2006 marketing budgets.

It reveals that the firms spent $1.6 billion (€1.02bn; £807.88m) on ads specifically targeting children, prompting the FTC to observe that while most major food marketers made significant strides to create healthier products and promote good nutrition, the industry at large still has a long way to go.

The report also acknowledges the problem of identifying those TV shows in which child-targeted ads should be restricted.

In a discrete statement FTC Democrat commissioner Jon Leibowitz said there needs to be a better way of figuring out which shows children are watching.

Although he accepts that youth-focused channels such as Nickelodeon already receive close oversight, he points a finger at shows such as Fox's American Idol which, while aimed primarily at adults, also attracts several million child viewers.

Not only do commercials for Coca-Cola appear in Idol's ad breaks, the brand also features prominently in a product placement deal in which cups bearing the Coke logo adorn the judges' table.

The FTC additionally notes that beverage companies spent $474 million to market sugary carbonated beverages to children ages twelve to seventeen – equating to nearly $20 per US teenager.

Coke's response was a textbook non sequitur.

"Coca-Cola applauds the efforts of our leaders in the government to address the issue of childhood obesity in America head-on," it wrote. "We believe that only through collaboration and partnership can we create the kinds of workable solutions will lead to real results."

The FTC report makes several recommendations, among them …

  • That marketers adopt nutrition-based standards to promote their products.
  • That media companies limit ads on children's programs to "healthy" foods and beverages.
  • And that media and entertainment companies restrict the licensing of characters to "healthy" foods marketed to children.
Meantime, the American Beverage Association reiterates its members' adherence to the marketing guidelines it created in May.

These prohibit ABA companies from marketing all nonalcoholic beverages except fruit juice, milk and water in media with audiences made up of more than of 50% of children below the age of twelve.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff