June 4, 2010
Junk food dominates new kid-focused advertising tactic

UC Davis researchers have found that companies are using a new medium to peddle fattening, sugary foods to children.

Public health researchers found that companies are using online advergames - a blend of interactive animation, video content and advertising - to promote corporate branding and products, particularly high-fat, high-sugar foods, a university news release states.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Diana Cassady, an associate professor of public health sciences, and Jennifer Culp, lead author of the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program at the university, analyzed all restaurant, beverage and food websites advertised on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon - cable networks geared toward children that have a high volume of website promotion with traditional ads - from August 2006 to March 2007.

Their analysis focused content during after-school hours and Saturday morning, when children tend to watch the most television.

Cassady and Culp analyzed hundreds of websites, web pages and advergames and found that nearly a third of the advertising including websites were for food and 84 percent of the websites assessed included online games, which included at least one brand identifier.

Researchers also found that on average, only one nutrition or physical activity message appeared for every 45 brand identifiers, the release states.

"I was astounded by how often logos or actual food products were integrated into the games," Culp said in a written statement.

Some games used candy or cereal as game pieces, while others would require special codes ï·“ available only by buying a specific cereal - to advance to higher game levels, she said.

The study, funded by the Cancer Research Program, concludes that regulations of food companies targeting youth are needed and health professionals should monitor food industry marketing practices.

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