The Effects of Advertising on Children

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The Effects of Advertising on Children

The task force reviewed research addressing two important types of questions regarding the effects of advertising on children. First, does advertising affect children’s commercial recall and product preferences? If not, the $12 billion spent annually by advertisers in commercial appeals to children would represent a surprisingly poor investment. Second, does exposure to advertising result in consumption of products that are inimical to the health and well-being of children? For example, does advertising play a role in the overconsumption of candy and sugared cereals or in underage drinking of alcoholic beverages?

Research on children's commercial recall and product preferences confirms that advertising typically achieves its intended effects. A variety of studies using differing methodologies find that children recall content from the ads to which they've been exposed. Product preference has been shown to occur with as little as a single commercial exposure and to strengthen with repeated exposures. Most importantly, studies have shown that product preferences affect children's product purchase requests and that these requests do influence parents' purchasing decisions.

The more fundamental concern regarding the effects of advertising on children relates to questions of potential harm resulting from exposure. A variety of research findings are relevant to this issue. Several studies, for example, have found that parent–child conflicts occur commonly when parents deny their children's product purchase requests that were precipitated by advertising. Considerable research has examined advertising's cumulative effect on children's eating habits. Studies have documented that a high percentage of advertisements targeting children feature candy, fast foods, and snacks and that exposure to such advertising increases consumption of these products. While consumption of nonnutritious foods per se may not be harmful, overconsumption of these products, particularly to the exclusion of healthier food, is linked to obesity and poorer health. Several studies have found strong associations between increases in advertising for nonnutritious foods and rates of childhood obesity.

A variety of studies have found a substantial relationship between children's viewing of tobacco and alcohol ads and positive attitudes toward consumption of such products. Children find many such commercials attractive and consequently have high brand awareness of such products and positive attitudes toward them. These products and their spokes-characters have been found to be featured in programming and publications frequently viewed by minors, and reviews of this research (including the Surgeon General's analysis) conclude that advertising of them contributes to youth smoking and drinking.

Critics have also expressed concern regarding the prevalence of advertising involving violence, such as ads for movies and video games. Three reports by the Federal Trade Commission found considerable support for such charges, and while studies have not directly assessed the impact of such advertising, it is highly likely that such ads do affect children's media preferences.

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