Children are getting a bellyful
of food marketing through Internet games and websites
touting products such as Snickers, Lucky Charms
and Cheetos, according to a study released Wednesday
by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In the first comprehensive
review of food marketing to children on the Web,
the research found 85% of leading brands that target
kids in TV ads also have games and other material
on the Internet. The sites promote snacks, cereal,
fast food, sugary drinks and candy.
More than 500 "advergames"
such as Hershey's Syrup Squirt, LifeSavers Boardwalk
Bowling and M&Ms Trivia Game were offered on
Many sites have special features.
Oreo.com has a jingle contest for songs about Oreo
cookies; McDonald's Ronald.com has pages for kids
to color; Capncrunch.com, which promotes the Quaker
Oats cereal, offers screensavers.
"Kids who are going to these
sites are immersed in a world of branded entertainment
involving foods," says Vicky Rideout, director of
Kaiser's Program for the Study of Entertainment
Media and Health. "Online advertising to kids today
doesn't have nearly as broad of a reach as TV advertising
does, but it does have a lot deeper reach."
The study "is certainly an
eye-opener in terms of the amount of food advertising
to kids on the Web," says William Dietz of the Division
of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
Policymakers and health experts
increasingly are concerned about the role food advertising
plays in childhood obesity. About 25 million children,
or one-third of children and teens in the USA, are
either overweight or on the brink of becoming so.
The study found that the 77
websites for major food products had 4,000 pages
designed for kids. The sites received about 12.2
million visits from children ages 2 to 11 during
a three-month period in 2005. Among other findings:
• 53% of the sites, such
as KelloggsfunKtown.com, have commercials. Some
sites have webisodes, which are serialized cartoons
or TV shows featuring products or characters.
• 64% use viral marketing,
urging children to e-mail their friends with a link
to the site.
• 38% have incentives
for children to buy foods to get access to special
games or prizes.
• 25% offer children
under 12 a membership so they can receive information
about special offers, new commercials and new brands.
Margo Wootan of the Center
for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group,
says, "The foods marketed to kids on the Internet
and television are almost devoid of nutritional
Something needs to be done
about advertising to kids, which is "incredibly
pernicious," says psychologist Kelly Brownell of
the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale
University. "Our government will not even admit
it is a problem."
But Daniel Jaffe of the Association
of National Advertisers says: "We do not believe
that stopping all advertising of foods to kids or
putting massive government restrictions on it is
going to solve the childhood obesity crisis. That
hasn't worked anywhere. The Children's Advertising
Review Unit has been working with the advertising
community to refine its standards."
Nancy Daigler of Kraft Foods
says, "By the end of the year, only our better-for-you
products (the Sensible Solution line) will appear
on Kraft websites that primarily reach children
Says Brownell: "Parents should
tell their children they are being advertised to
and manipulated in the guise of games. And parents
should use software to block the sites."