Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF’s) Bridging the Gap research program recently published a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine concluding that the food and beverage industry “still spends the bulk of its money to promote unhealthy products” to children and teens. Lisa Powell, et al., “Food Marketing Expenditures Aimed at Youth: Putting the Numbers in Context,” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, August 2013. Seeking to contextualize a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report that found food and beverage companies spent less on youth-focused marketing in 2009 than in 2006, the study suggests that the expenditure trends highlighted by FTC ultimately fail to account for changes in the marketing landscape that allegedly negate the overall decrease in spending.

In particular, according to a concurrent issue brief, Rudd Center and Bridging the Gap researchers reported that “the vast majority of youth-directed ads promote unhealthy foods and drink, such as fast-food products, carbonated beverages, and cereals, candies, and other items that are high in sugar, fat, or sodium.” They also noted that (i) “nearly 40 percent of the reduction [in marketing expenditures directed at youths ages 2 to 17] was attributed to a drop in expenditures on fast-food restaurant premiums, such as toys”; (ii) TV ads also decreased in cost during this time while remaining “the dominant platform for advertising to youths”; and (iii) “increased spending on new media raises unique concerns because such marketing strategies cost far less than traditional media.”

Based on these findings, the study’s authors recommended that the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative revisit its nutrition criteria for foods and beverages marketed to children, as well as close alleged loopholes to cover product packaging, in-store promotions, and other forms of childtargeted marketing. “The current analysis highlighted the lack of progress in existing industry-initiated actions and demonstrated that stronger self-regulatory efforts are needed to noticeably reduce youth exposure to unhealthy food marketing,” concludes the study. “Continued monitoring of expenditures, exposure, and nutritional content is needed, and policy actions by federal, state, and local governments and regulatory agencies may be required.” See Rudd Radar Press Release, August 15, 2013.