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Despite a voluntary pledge by major candy manufacturers in 2008 to curtail TV advertising of their products to young children, a new study found that TV ads directed at kids actually increased by 74 percent during the next four years.

The study, by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, showed that children viewed an average of 485 candy ads on TV in 2011, up from an average of 279 ads per child in 2008. More than three-quarters of those 485 ads were placed by companies that pledged to trim their TV advertising efforts to kids as part of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).

“Although companies that belong to the CFBAI publicly state that candy should not be advertised directly to children, these findings clearly demonstrate that they have found many ways to advertise candy to children without technically violating their pledges not to do so,” said lead study author Jennifer Harris, PhD, in a statement released by the Rudd Center.

The study’s results were published in the journal Appetite.

Candy brands such as Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and Kraft — all of which signed on to the CFBAI pledge — sidestepped the marketing promise by ramping up their ad buys on cable channels that attract a high percentage of youth under 18. Current CFBAI guidelines define children as 11 years old or younger and focus on programming that attracts 35 percent of its audience from that population segment.

Fully one-third of the candy ads viewed by children appeared during shows on Nick at Nite, ABC Family, Adult Swim, and other channels that are not included in the “child-directed” programs targeted by the CFBAI. Hershey was the most visible advertiser among this group. The brand accounted for 89 percent of the additional ads viewed on these channels.

By comparison, ads placed by candy companies that had not signed the CFBAI pledge increased at a lower rate (41 percent) than those by CFBAI participants.

“While the companies are following the letter of the law in their pledges, this study highlights substantial loopholes,” said Rudd Center director and study coauthor Marlene Schwartz, PhD. She recommended that the CFBAI “adopt a more comprehensive definition of ‘child-directed advertising’ so that these pledges lead to meaningful changes in children’s true exposure to unhealthy food marketing.”

An expert panel, convened earlier this year by Healthy Eating Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, recommended expanding the definition of child-directed media to include programs in which children 14 years old and younger make up 25 percent or more of the audience.

For more on raising healthy children in the face of powerful media, see “Health: A Family Value” in our September 2006 issue.

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