a1 Institute for Commercial Law, University of Hamburg, Max Brauer Allee 60, D-22765 Hamburg, Germany
Objective To examine whether the German food industry directs commercials for unhealthy products to children and whether self-administered voluntary restrictions on the promotion of less healthy foods (the EU Pledge) are effective to mitigate this exposure.
Design By analysing German data from television (TV) channels, advertised products were categorized and food products classified as core foods (healthy) and non-core foods (less healthy). Marketing techniques were documented. Food commercials were furthermore compared with commercials for toy products, and comparisons were made between advertising patterns before and after the EU Pledge.
Setting Data for ten German TV channels were recorded for two weekdays and two weekend days from 06.00 to 22.00 hours in 2007 and 2008. A second sample containing one weekday and one weekend day of three German TV channels was recorded again in 2010 for comparison in the same time period.
Subjects In total 16 062 advertisements from 2007–2008 and 2657 from 2010 were analysed.
Results In 2007–2008 19·9 % of TV commercials were for food products, of which 73 % were for non-core foods, 21 % for core foods and 6 % not classified. In three specified channels widely viewed by children and youth, 14·5 % of commercials were for food products, of which 88·2 % were for non-core foods. Commercials for unhealthy foods were broadcast significantly more often during children's peak viewing and in children's programmes, with a higher use of promotional characters and premiums than found in commercials for non-food products. In 2010, analysis of the three specified channels found that 18·5 % of commercials were for food products, of which 98·2 % were for non-core foods. While the use of premiums decreased compared with other commercials, the use of promotional characters in non-core food commercials increased, especially during children's programmes.
Conclusions Children in Germany are exposed to large numbers of food commercials. The exposure to commercials for non-core foods and the use of techniques attractive to children are widespread and appear to have remained unaffected by the announcement of the EU Pledge in December 2007. We conclude that the industry's voluntary agreement has failed to fulfil its declared purpose.
(Received February 08 2011)
(Accepted November 09 2011)
(Online publication December 14 2011)