Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has published a paper criticizing the use of food and beverage advertising on Websites directed at children. A.E. Ustjanauskas, et al., “Food and beverage advertising on children’s web sites,” Pediatric Obesity, July 2013. Using data provided by comScore, researchers evaluated a total of 3.4 billion food and beverage advertisements shown over a one-year period on 72 popular children’s sites, including Nick.com, NeoPets.com and CartoonNetwork.com. Of the 254 different food products advertised, cereals apparently accounted for 45 percent of ad impressions, followed by fast food restaurants (19 percent) and prepared foods and meals (8 percent).

The study singled out companies committed to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), reporting that signatories were responsible for 89 percent of all food and beverage advertisements on children’s sites. In particular, the authors claimed that CFBAI companies “placed 320 million impressions for brands not approved for children’s advertising, including 95% of candy ads on children’s web sites and 100% of carbonated beverage ads,” while only 16 percent of ads met sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and added sugar guidelines set by the federal Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG).

“As previously shown in studies of television food advertising to children, nearly all ads for brands that CFBAI-participating companies have approved for advertising on child-directed web sites are high in fat, sodium and/or sugar,” concludes the study. “Despite CFBAI companies’ pledges to market only healthier dietary choices in child-directed media, display advertising for CFBAI-approved products was less likely to meet IWG standards than advertising for CFBAI company products not approved for child-targeted media. Further, ads for CFBAI-approved products were less likely to meet the standards than ads from non-participating companies. These findings demonstrate that CFBAI self-regulatory pledges in the United States do not protect children from marketing of nutritionally poor foods.” See Rudd Center Press Release, July 8, 2013.