Whether it’s the flashiest toy, latest animated movie, or newest fashion craze, every parent or guardian can attest to the fact that their children are constantly bombarded with media advertising on television and the Internet. Another popular item to market to youth is food, such as cereals, sodas and restaurant meals. So, how much money are companies spending on marketing products to children and how healthy are these foods?

Before the end of 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report entitled A Review of Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents: Follow-Up Report which aimed to answer these questions. The study compared 2006 industry data to 2009 (the year where many companies decided to self-regulate and improve their food marketing practices). Has industry changed their advertising methods since 2006? And is the food they market any healthier? Major findings from the study are show below.

  • The industry spent $1.79 billion marketing to youth in 2009, which was a decrease from $2.1 billion in 2006. However, spending on newer media (online or on mobile devices) increased by 50%.
  • The FTC found “modest” improvements in the nutrition of food heavily marketed to children, including beverages, cereals and restaurant meals.
  • Marketed cereals had less sugar and more whole grain than in 2006, however; overall these cereals were the least nutritious.
  • Marketed drinks had slightly fewer calories in 2009 than in 2006.
  • Finally, meals advertised for children at “fast food” restaurants as “children’s meals” were better nutritionally than main entrees geared to children.

“The encouraging news is that we’re seeing promising signs that food companies are reformulating their products and marketing more nutritious foods to kids…But there is still room for improvement,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

Unfortunately, the FTC also found that the use of television characters, such as SpongeBob SquarePants, to promote unhealthy meals was commonplace in 2009. Recently, about 1,400 You’re the Cure Advocates urged Nickelodeon to stop advertising junk food to children with their popular characters. If you haven’t already sent a letter to the network, go ahead and tell them to stop marketing unhealthy foods to our children today!