Companies still advertising unhealthy foods

By Sheryl Kay • Published: October 11th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Are foods marketed toward children becoming healthier? Or do they just claim to be?

Prompted by a general societal shift toward physical fitness, food companies promised to produce better alternatives in children’s meal offerings, and advertising campaigns that would only highlight nutritious food.

But the reality is quite different. Research just published in the journal Pediatric Obesity shows that companies continue to offer and market poor selections for children, sometimes even advertising them as being healthy.

Investigators tracked the most popular children’s websites for two years, following food advertisements in the banners, the nutritional value of these foods, and logging how many times those pages were viewed by children. In all they found that the websites were viewed almost three-and-a-half billion times per year, with more than half the visits occurring on two specific websites, Nick-dot-com and Neopets-dot-com.

After carefully analyzing the content of the banner ads, the investigators found that while three-quarters of the advertisements promoted brands that food companies touted as better dietary options, the products in 84 percent of those ads had high levels of fat, sugar and sodium, and in fact were less likely to meet government nutrition standards than foods that were not advertised as healthy selections. Almost 65 percent of the food ads were for sugary breakfast cereals and fast foods, both no-no’s in the health food world.

The researchers say that stronger nutrition standards are necessary for foods marketed to children. Until such time, children may be unduly influenced by ads trying to put a healthy stamp on unhealthy fare.

But there’s an easy fix for parents trying to keep their kids eating healthy: Look at the labels closely. Nutritional labels don’t lie, even if ads fudge the truth.