Why The Next Generation Continues To Grow Up Watching Junk Food Ads

Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
I grew up watching soda ads sandwiched between episodes of Power Puff Girls, and embraced the notion that I had to get a McDonald’s Happy Meal every day until I collected all of the special edition mini Beanie Babies (remember those?!). But, things were supposed to be different for the next generation of young TV watchers. In 2011, federal guidelines strongly encouraged brands to either produce healthier eats or no longer advertise them to children ages 5 to 10 years old.

Here’s the thing: All of that sounds really promising, however, the makers of sugary cereals and saturated fat-laden potato chips were left to their own devices with respect to actually accomplishing this feat. And, unsurprisingly, a recent study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine points out that, “Despite consistent compliance, self-regulation has been ineffective in shifting the landscape of food marketing to children away from an overwhelming emphasis on obesogenic products.”

So, how is it possible that the food industry simultaneously complied with the federal guidelines and continued to target children with junk food ads? In 2014, a coalition of 12 big-name food brands came up with their own nutritional criteria (dubbed the Children’s Food And Beverage Advertising Initiative) for deciding what could and couldn’t be advertised to youngsters. In another not-so-shocking turn of events, the new standards required hardly any changes to existing foods or advertising practices. The standards require a cereal to contain 10 grams of sugar or less per serving, but that’s only one gram less than a serving of Chips Ahoy! Original Chocolate Chip Cookies (three cookies). In fact, the approved product list contains items like Cookie Crisp cereal and Fruit Gushers (9 and 12 grams of sugar per serving, respectively).

If you’re wondering what we can do about getting junk food advertisements out of the faces of the next generation, the report’s findings in the Journal of Preventative Medicine say it all: “Governmental restrictions on advertising practices will likely be required to end the predominance of unhealthy products in child-targeted food marketing.” Until then, it looks like it’s up to us to educate the wee ones about Gushers, Cookie Crisp, and the like. (Civil Eats/The Lunch Tray)      
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