FTC: Advertisting Dollars Target Kids

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CBS News Investigative Unit's Kim Lengle wrote this story for CBSNews.com.

A large pot of advertising dollars is being used to attract children to food and drinks that are often unhealthy choices, according to a federal study released Tuesday.

The study into food and beverage marketing by the Federal Trade Commission was sparked from congressional lawmakers' concern over the growing obesity rates in children.

While the study did not address a direct link between marketing and childhood obesity, the FTC did recommend tightening the advertising standards for food and drink directed at youngsters.

The Internet is now being used as a marketing tool to entice teens directing them to Web sites where they can play games, win prizes and watch podcasts, the study revealed. Some Web sites even offer free screensaver downloads, ringtones and layouts for MySpace pages.

"The web stuff doesn't cost a lot," said Margot G. Wootan, director of Nutritional Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Wootan says the study doesn't give a complete picture of the reach of the Internet in marketing to kids. "These companies have fancy programers that come up with very sophisicated marketing tools that gets kids hooked to products," she said.

The year-long study provided a new insight into how much companies are spending to attract youth to their products and its marketing tools.

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In all, the nation's largest food and beverage companies - including Burger King, Campbell's Soup and PepsiCo - spent more than $1.6 billion in 2006 to market their products to children, the study found.

"We've never had this kind of solid data for the public health community to look at" said Vicky Rideout, vice president and director of the Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Until now we've had to guess and make assumptions about how much marketing is targeting teens. And, it's important to know so that we can make policies that regulate this."

As part of the study, the marketing methods of 44 major companies were analyzed using confidential financial data that the companies were required under subpoena to disclose to the FTC.

The analysis indicated that marketing methods involved more than just television advertisements, attractive food packaging and in-store displays.

"As a mom, you experience it first hand every week in the grocery store," said Wootan. "The food companies clearly know the hold they have or they would not be spending $1 billion on our kids. Parents know it, companies know and now the studies show it."

Popular animated movie heroes such as from Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean," were also used to market frozen waffles, fruit snacks, and popcorn. The report suggests that media and entertainment outlets seem to limit the licensing of characters to more nutritional food and drink.

By Kim Lenge