Background: Given the high rates of childhood obesity, assessing the nutritional content of food and beverage products in television (TV) advertisements to which children are exposed is important.
Methods: TV ratings data for children 2-5 and 6-11 years of age were used to examine the nutritional content of food and beverage products in advertisements seen by children on all programming and children's programming (≥35% child-audience share). Nutritional content was assessed based on the federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) recommended nutrients to limit (NTL), including saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and sodium.
Results: A total of 46.2% of 2- to 5-year-olds' and 43.5% of 6- to 11-year-olds' total exposure to food and beverage TV advertising was for ads seen on children's programming. Among children 2-5 and 6-11 years, respectively, 84.1 and 84.4% of ads seen on all programming and 95.8 and 97.3% seen on children's programming were for products high in NTL, and 97.8 and 98.1% of Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) company-member ads seen on children's programming were for products high in NTL, compared to 80.5 and 89.9% of non-CFBAI product ads.
Conclusions: Most food and beverage products in TV ads seen by children do not meet the IWG nutrition recommendations and less than one half of such ads are covered by self-regulation. Products advertised on children's versus general-audience programming and by CFBAI- versus non-CFBAI-member companies are particularly of low nutritional quality, suggesting that self-regulation has not successfully protected children from exposure to advertising for unhealthy foods and that continued monitoring is required.