Evaluating Industry Self-Regulation of Food Marketing to Children


      Concern has grown about the role of televised food advertising as a contributor to childhood obesity. In response, the food industry adopted a program of self-regulation, with participating companies pledging to limit child-targeted advertising to healthier products. The implicit promise of the industry initiative is a significant improvement in the overall nutritional quality of foods marketed to children, thereby negating the need for governmental regulation to accomplish that objective. This study assesses the efficacy of industry self-regulation by comparing advertising content on children’s TV programs before and after self-regulation was implemented.


      A systematic content analysis of food advertisements (n=625 in 2007, n=354 in 2013) appearing in children’s TV programs on the most popular cable and broadcast channels was conducted.


      All analyses were conducted in 2014. Findings indicated that no significant improvement in the overall nutritional quality of foods marketed to children has been achieved since industry self-regulation was adopted. In 2013, 80.5% of all foods advertised to children on TV were for products in the poorest nutritional category, and thus pose high risk for contributing to obesity.


      The lack of significant improvement in the nutritional quality of food marketed to children is likely a result of the weak nutritional standards for defining healthy foods employed by industry, and because a substantial proportion of child-oriented food marketers do not participate in self-regulation. The lack of success achieved by self-regulation indicates that other policy actions are needed to effectively reduce children’s exposure to obesogenic food advertising.
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