By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Advertising for children by food and beverage companies isn’t meeting healthy diet standards, according to a new study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study found that the companies are meeting their own guidelines in advertising healthier products to children on television. But  in 2013, only 25 percent of those ads promoted products that the government would consider “moderately” healthy.

There were  zero advertisements that promoted products in the “healthiest” food category, according to the study.

The study, released Friday, is the first to calculate whether the 17 major food and beverage companies that are members of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative were meeting their pledges to promote healthier products to children. It also examined whether television ads are showing a healthier mix of products.

Researchers examined 247 advertisements aired during children’s programming by CFBAI members in the spring of 2013. They found that CFBAI companies did follow their pledges and that all of the featured products met the nutrition criteria for each company at the time.

Researchers then compared the products with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ nutrition guidelines.

In 2007 — before the launch of CFBAI — 76.4 percent of CFBAI companies’ ads were for products high in added sugar, fat or calories. In 2013, the frequency of ads for similar products remained virtually unchanged, at 75.3 percent.

HHS recommends eating such products, which includes french fries, chicken nuggets and sweetened breakfast cereal, “only once in a while or on special occasions.”

Programming was studied on ABC, Cartoon Network, CBS, CW, Fox, NBC and Nickelodeon. The team looked at ads aired between Feb. 1 and April 15, 2007, before CFBAI started, and during the same period in 2013, after CFBAI companies’ pledges were in effect.

“CFBAI members followed their pledges in 2013, but those efforts have barely moved the needle in terms of shifting food advertising to children to genuinely healthy products,” said Dale Kunkel, lead author of the study and a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “The CFBAI companies’ standards do not reflect high benchmarks, and not all food companies participate, limiting the impact of the program.”

Kunkel and his team also compared the food and beverages in ads with HHS standards.

Some key findings included:

  • CFBAI member companies aired 70 percent of foods ads in 2013; non-participating companies aired 30 percent of ads.
  • In 2007, 79.4 percent  of all foods ads, from CFBAI members and non-members combined, were for products high in sugar, fat or calories in 2007.  In 2013, 80.5 percent of the ads were for products high in sugar, fat or calories.
  • Non-CFBAI  companies were significantly more likely to air ads for foods high in sugar, fat or calories in 2013 than were CFBAI members (92.5 percent of non-CFBAI ads, compared with 75.3 percent of CFBAI ads).
  • CFBAI members also pledged to use characters from TV shows or movies solely to promote healthier foods, yet 61 percent of ads with these characters promoted products high in sugar, fat or calories.
  •  CFBAI rolled out uniform nutrition criteria at the end of 2013, after the data for the study was collected. Each member company is now following the same standards.

The current 17 members of CFBAI are:

  • Burger King Corp.
  • Campbell Soup Co.
  • ConAgra Foods, Inc.
  • Ferrero U.S.A, Inc. (joined after this study was conducted, so was not included)
  • General Mills, Inc.
  • Kellogg Co.
  • Kraft Foods Group, Inc.
  • Mars, Inc.
  • McDonald’s USA, LLC
  • Mondelēz Global, LLC
  • Nestlé USA
  • PepsiCo, Inc.
  • Post Foods, LLC
  • The Coca-Cola Co.
  • The Dannon Co.
  • The Hershey Co.
  • Unilever United States