The Asparagus Ad Gap


It's not that there are too many junk food ads aimed at kids, explain the authors of an important new study. It's that there aren't enough vegetable ads:

In a child's buffet of food commercials, more than 40 percent of the dishes are candy, snacks and fast food. Nowhere to be found: fresh fruit, vegetables, poultry or seafood.

Of food ads that targeted children, 34 percent were for candy and snacks, 29 percent for cereal, 10 percent for beverages, 10 percent for fast food, 4 percent for dairy products, 4 percent for prepared food and the rest for breads and pastries and dine-in restaurants.

In December 2005, the Institute of Medicine concluded that marketing practices from the food and beverage industry are out of balance with recommended diets for children and contribute to an environment that puts children's health at risk.

We now have data that conclusively shows kids are seeing an overwhelming number of ads for unhealthy food on all types of TV shows," Sen Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said. "The 'childhood obesity epidemic' isn't just a catch phrase. It's a real public health crisis."

So 40 percent of ads pitch products from a list of foods deemed unhealthy. According to Sen. Harkin, this shows–sorry, conclusively shows–that kids are overwhelmed. OK. Much, much more bizarre is the assumption that the proportion of ads should perfectly mirror the dietary needs of a healthy child. How exactly does this correlation work? Is one asparagus ad equivalent to one serving of vegetables? Does one pro-lettuce advertisement negate one Cookie Crisp ad? Apparently, one fitness-focused PSA is equivalent to one workout:

Children see few public service announcements compared to food ads. Children under 8 see one announcement on fitness or nutrition for every 26 food ads. For preteens, it's one announcement for every 48 food ads. And for teens, the ratio is one public service announcement for every 130 food ads.

That's right, kids: The way to stay slim and healthy is to watch nutritious television.