The Federal Trade Commission today announced the results of a comprehensive study of food and beverage industry marketing expenditures and activities directed to children and teens. The study, A Review of Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents: Follow-Up Report gauges the progress industry has made since first launching self-regulatory efforts to promote healthier food choices to kids. It serves as a follow-up to the Commission’s 2008 report on food marketing requested by Congress.
The report released today provides a picture of how food companies allocated $1.79 billion on marketing to youth ages 2-17 in 2009. The FTC found that overall spending was down 19.5 percent from 2006, with most of that decrease coming from less spending on television ads to youth. At the same time, food companies stepped up their spending to market to children and teens in new media, such as online, mobile, and viral marketing, by 50 percent.
New to this report is a detailed analysis of the nutritional profile of foods marketed to youth. The analysis suggests that industry self-regulation resulted in modest nutritional improvements from 2006 to 2009 within specific food categories heavily marketed to youth, such as cereals, drinks, and fast food kids’ meals.
According to the report, food company participation in self-regulation has increased, but some companies with significant marketing to children still have not joined the effort. The entertainment industry lags farther behind. With a few exceptions, media companies have not limited licensing of children’s characters and placement of ads during children’s programming to more nutritious foods.
“This report paints a comprehensive picture, from soup to nuts, about expenditures, marketing techniques, and the nutritional profile of foods advertised to children and teens – it will be enormously helpful for policymakers and the public,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
“The encouraging news is that we’re seeing promising signs that food companies are reformulating their products and marketing more nutritious foods to kids, especially among companies participating in industry self-regulatory efforts. But there is still room for improvement: We will look for continued progress by the food industry and greater participation by the entertainment industry.”
The follow-up study compares the 2006 data presented in the first report to 2009 data. The FTC obtained the data through compulsory process orders, or subpoenas, that it issued to 48 major food and beverage marketers. Key findings on how much companies spent and the types of marketing activities they used to reach children and teens include:
Key findings about the nutritional quality of foods within the product categories most heavily marketed to children or teens, include:
Quick-Service Restaurants (QSR):
The Commission also examined food consumption data from outside sources to look for signs that children and teens are changing their diets as food companies shift their marketing expenditures, marketing techniques, or the nutrition content of the food marketed to youth. The report notes that over the past decade, children and teens have reduced their daily caloric intake, as well as their consumption of total fat, sodium, and sugar.
The report further noted that since 2009 many food companies have continued to improve the nutritional profile of their foods by reformulating existing products and introducing new ones. In July 2011, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) – whose member companies accounted for nearly 90 percent of advertising spending on foods marketed to children in 2009 – announced standardized nutrition criteria that will take effect at the end of 2013.
While the report states that, as a general matter, the CFBAI uniform criteria will likely lead to further improvements in the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children, it also notes that in several specific food product categories, some of the criteria may have little to no impact on nutritional quality, because many foods marketed to children already met the new standards as of 2009. Moreover, the report notes that some companies have not yet joined CFBAI or adopted meaningful nutrition standards of their own.
The Commission vote to approve the report was 5-0.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.