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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a call for marketers to cut back on the marketing of consumer products to children, saying that the more than 40,000 commercials shown each year on television contribute to the nation’s rising childhood obesity rates, poor nutritional profiles, and even tobacco and alcohol abuse. AAP is calling not just for reduced marketing to children, but also for a concerted effort to educate children about the difference between marketing messages and reality.

Among the specific recommendations being made by AAP:

• Children should be limited to no more than two hours of non-educational screen time each day.

• School-based advertising should be banned or curtailed.

• Congress should implement restrictions on commercial advertising on children’s programming.

• All tobacco advertising in all media should be banned, and alcohol advertising should be limited so that only the product is shown.

• Erectile dysfunction drugs should only be advertised on television after 10 pm.

“We're pleading with pediatricians and parents to become aware that consumeristic tendencies are being fed right from birth," said Dr. Donald Shifrin, chairman of the AAP Committee on Communications. "We have to understand that youngsters under a certain age cannot differentiate between a commercial and a program. To them, it's real. There should be some effort on the part of parents to point out that this is a commercial."

And David Jernigan, executive director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, said, "It's so important that pediatricians and parents be aware of the pressure that kids are under, and for professional groups such as this one to keep putting pressure on industry.”

However, industry special interest groups responded to the proposals with skepticism.

Beer Institute President Jeff Becker said, “The key to preventing illegal underage drinking is preventing youth access to alcohol, not restrictive measures or censorship." And the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America called the proposals “particularly weak,” saying that ED ads are voluntarily limited to programming where 80 percent of the audience is adult.

And, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) also challenged the proposals, saying that its members “have always been committed to communicating with consumers, especially children, in ways that accurately portray their products, their intended uses and the benefits they deliver.”
KC's View:
Speaking as a parent, we think that any marketer who claims not to be trying to sell to children is being disingenuous. One of the rules of marketing is to try to appeal to the people most likely to be influenced…and children fall squarely into that category. And sometimes – or often times – the products being sold aren’t particularly healthy or good for them.

Now, we’re not sure that governmental intrusion is called for, since it usually results in things being more screwed up, not less. But we’re also not sure that industry can be left to do things on its own, since the profit motive and the clarion call of Wall Street often outweigh the better angels of an executive’s nature.

What will work is for parents to taken firm control of the television set and the remote control, to make sure that kids’ time watching television is limited. It isn’t just commercials, by the way, that can be inappropriate for children. It doesn’t matter if erectile dysfunction drug ads are banned until after 10 pm if on an 8 pm show like “How I Met Your Mother” there are constant references to lap dances and “getting laid.” We don’t mind the jokes. Some are even funny. But the time slot is all wrong.

Whatever happened to the old “Family Hour,” anyway?