An average child or teenager in the US sees more than 3,000 advertisements a day, and leading doctors suggest this is linked to increasing obesity, poor nutrition and abuse of alcohol and cigarettes in US youth. They call for increasing controls on youth advertising exposure and more media literacy to help kids understand how ads affect their consumer behaviour and consequently their health.

You can see the full policy statement in the December issue of Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

In the US children as young as 6 months are exposed to ads intended to engender trust in brands. Advertising is creeping into all walks of life, especially in schools in the US. Schools do deals with beverage companies to place soda and fizzy drinks machines in school corridors, and TV programmes, such as Channel One, are piped directly into 25 per cent of US schools showing 2 minutes of advertising for every 10 minutes of educational programming. In Europe on the other hand, legislation and practice to protect children from ads is on the increase. Greece has banned toy advertising before 10 pm on television, and Norway does not allow any advertising targeted at children under 12.

It is not all gloom however, for instance the US food industry is starting to take a step in the right direction. In May this year a national beverage distributor agreed to restrict the sale and availability of sodas in schools and promote water, unsweetened juice and low fat milk to younger children.

The AAP cites 5 specific areas of concern: tobacco, alcohol, drug, food and sex advertising. For each area they mention research that suggests links between high advertising exposure and negative health impacts. For instance tests show that young children ask for more junk food (food that is high in calories and low nutritional value) than usual when they have watched junk food commercials. And they also point to the fact that advertising healthy foods leads to healthier eating in children as young as 6.

The AAP statement points to increasing exposure also being a result of the growing number of different kinds of media that youngsters are exposed to every day, from movies to tv, internet and print media. Techniques are also becoming more sophisticated, with methods such as product placement in movies and internet tracking of individual consumer behaviour. This leading body of pediatricians invites professional colleagues and parents to take steps to ensure that children are not overly exposed to advertising. They recommend parents, pediatricians and public health groups learn more about the methods employed by advertisers to target children and unite to put pressure on Congress to tighten up legislation, introduce bans, and support projects such as public TV.

“Children, Adolescents, and Advertising”
Donald L. Shifrin, MD, Chairperson, Daniel Dean Broughton, MD, MS, Susan Buttross, MD, Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS, Ed, Rosario Gonzalez de Rivas, MD, Regina Melinda Milteer, MD, Deborah Ann Mulligan, MD, Victor C. Strasburger, MD
PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. 6 December 2006, pp. 2563-2569
Click here to view policy statement online

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today