Video: Childhood obesity and the media

updated 2/24/2004 12:47:47 PM ET 2004-02-24T17:47:47

Advertising aimed at young children should be restricted because youngsters cannot evaluate it properly, the American Psychological Association said Monday.

Children under age 8 tend to assume advertising is truthful and unbiased, the group said in a report that blamed youth obesity on eating habits spurred by advertising.

The report "shows young children are uniquely vulnerable to commercial persuasion," said study co-author Dale Kunkel.

"The most predominant products marketed to children are sugared cereals, candies, sweets, sodas and snack foods," he added.

Kunkel said a six-person team of psychologists spent 18 months analyzing studies of children and their reaction to advertising.

The basic concept is understanding persuasive intent, and children ages 8 and younger generally do not grasp that intent," Kunkel explained.

Older children and adults recognize the intent to sell and know advertising can exaggerate, though they may not apply that knowledge in every case, he added.

"What we're saying is that, because children 8 and below cannot grasp intent ... it is inherently unfair," Kunkel said.

American Advertising Federation spokeswoman Mary Hilton said she had not seen the report and could not immediately comment on it.

The Psychologists estimated that advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year on advertising messages aimed at the youth market. Additionally, the average child watches more than 40,000 television commercials per year, they said.

Kunkel said the group also has concerns about certain commercial campaigns primarily targeting adults that pose risks for child-viewers.

For example, beer ads are commonly shown during sports events and seen by millions of children, creating both brand familiarity and more positive attitudes toward drinking in children as young as 9-10 years of age.

They also expressed concern that commercials for violent media products such as movies and video games could increase the likelihood of youngsters' aggressive behavior.

The report recommended:

  • "Governmental action to protect young children from commercial exploitation" through advertising.
  • Making sure disclosures and disclaimers in advertising directed to children are in language easily understood, such as "you have to put it together," rather than "some assembly required".
  • Investigating how young children comprehend and are influenced by advertising in new interactive media environments such as the Internet.
  • Examining the influence of advertising directed to children in the school and classroom.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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