Adver-games ignite childhood obesity debate

Health officials worry mobile games touting sugary foods unfairly target children

By Allison McGinley - News Director

ORLANDO, Fla. - It used to be Saturday morning cartoons touring sugary cereals and candy moms and dads had to worry about. Now, in our mobile world there's a new concern.

Adver-games are games on mobile phones and tablets usually featuring unhealthy foods.

With nearly one in five children obese in our country, there's concern and growing controversy over how food is being marketed to our kids.

Aimee Yoon's children like to play with their food, but not in the way you might think.

Using tablets and phones they swirl slushy drinks, jiggle gelatin snacks, and flick lollipops.

"Ii think as long as the game is engaging to them then they're kind of hooked and want to keep playing it," said Yoon.

Yoon's kids are part of the estimated 1.2 million children playing these new advergames--video games on tablets and phones that tout cereals, candy, and fast food.

"These games are accessible anytime and anywhere," said Dr. Jennifer Harris who's with Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity says her new research proves advergames are an effective sales pitch.

"They ate about 50% more snack food immediately afterwards than kids who didn't play those games." said Harris.

Combine that statistic with a growing number of obese children and you get a medical community that's demanding change.

But right now, the Federal Trade Commission does not have any authority over how companies market food to children. It does recommend companies only advertise foods that meet quote "meaningful nutrition standards."

"The government doesn't define meaningful nutrition standards.  Right now, it's up to each individual company to decide what that is," said  Elaine Kolish.  Kolish heads up the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising initiative which is made up of 16 major food companies who recently pledged to market healthier foods to kids.

Still, some companies claim their Adver-games aren't targeting children, but older teens and adults, setting them free from those guidelines.

"My kids are still at an age where I have enough control over what I'm putting on their plate," said Yoon.

The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative-- which includes companies like McDonald's, Burger King, and Nestle has issued a set of new, uniform nutrition policy that places limits on calories, sugar and saturated fat.

Members must adopt these standards by December 31, 2013.

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