GMA/FPA says food ad study only industry 'snapshot'

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — While commending the work of the Kaiser Family Foundation and its study of television food advertising to children, Mary Sophos, senior vice-president and chief affairs officer of the Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association (GMA/FPA), said the report "is only a snapshot" of the industry, and "does not fully capture" efforts undertaken by food and beverage companies since the study was conducted in 2005.

The study, "Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States," combined content analysis of 1,638 hours of television content, including 8,854 food ads, with detailed data about children’s viewing habits, providing an estimate of the number and type of TV ads seen by children of various ages.

According to the study, tweens saw the most food ads, about 21 ads a day, or more than 7,600 a year. Teenagers ages 13-17 came in second, at 17 a day, followed by children ages 2 to 7, who saw the least number of food ads, at 12 per day.

"We welcome today’s report and look forward to reviewing its findings to see how they can supplement the already enormous efforts under way by the food and beverage industry to help Americans live healthier lifestyles," Ms. Sophos said. "However, given that the report was completed in 2005, it is only a snapshot that does not fully capture all of the industry efforts in this area since that time.

"Over the last five years alone, food companies have introduced over 10,000 new and reformulated products with more whole grains and fiber, reduced calories, reduced saturated fat, zero trans fat, lower sodium and sugar. During this same period, many food companies have also introduced 100-calorie packages and similar forms of portion-controlled offerings and are investing millions of dollars in initiatives that educate consumers on the importance of a healthy diet and increased physical activity.

"More recently, 11 of the leading food and beverage companies accounting for over two-thirds of all TV advertising to children under 12 have created a new Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative under which they have committed to devote 50% of their advertisements to healthier foods or to messages that promote fitness and nutrition."

Also commenting on the report was Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who last year joined Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, Federal Communications chairman Kevin Martin and F.C.C. commissioners Michael J. Copps and Deborah Taylor Tate to announce the formation of the Joint Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity.

"This study is a wake-up call that we all must do more to address the impact of food advertising on children," Mr. Brownback said. "The dramatic rise in childhood obesity rates is something that cannot be ignored. On a daily basis, the average child in America is exposed to dozens of television advertisements for junk food."

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