(HealthDay News) – Free online games designed to promote branded products (“advergames”) are being used to market foods, snacks, and beverages with low nutritional value to young children, according to a study published Sept. 26 in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Preventing Chronic Disease.

Lorraine J. Weatherspoon, PhD, RD, from Michigan State University in East Lansing, and colleagues classified foods marketed to children (aged 2–11 years) through advergames as either meeting or not meeting nutrition recommendations based on criteria for four agencies (the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA], the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Science in the Public Interest [CSPI], and the Institute of Medicine [IOM]). The comScore Media Builder Matrix was used to identify 143 websites that marketed 439 foods to children.

The researchers found that the websites advertised 254 meals, 101 snacks, and 84 drinks. A similarly low proportion of meals and snacks met recommendations from the USDA and the FDA. Only a small proportion of meals and fewer snacks met the recommendations of all the agencies, highlighting inconsistency in recommendations. Most beverages (65–95%) failed to meet some recommendations, which were also inconsistent across the agencies that provide recommendations (USDA, IOM, and CSPI).

“A standardized system of food marketing guidance is needed to better inform the public about healthfulness of foods advertised to children,” the authors conclude.

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