Research published by the Federal Trade Commission prior to Christmas 2012 shows small nutritional improvements in foods marketed to children from 2006 to 2009, but that many of those foods and snacks were still considered the “least nutritious” food they could eat.

Calories, sodium, sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat in children’s foods decreased slightly over three years – a good start, but still not what socially responsible levels should be. Fiber, whole grain, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium levels all increased, but more nutrients should be promoted to ensure long-term health and to further declines in child obesity. Per the FTC:

“None of the snacks marketed to children in either 2006 or 2009 met the FDA labeling claim standard for low calorie . . . In 2009, the cereals most heavily marketed to children were least nutritious . . . [and] had less than half the whole grain of cereal marketed to children without cross-promotions.

“The top three sources of calories in children’s diets are grain-based desserts, pizza, and soda/energy/sports drinks. Children are consuming too little whole grain, vegetables, fruits, milk, and healthy oils and falling short on important nutrients like fiber, potassium, vitamin D, and calcium. At the same time, children consume too many calories from added sugars, solid fats, and refined grains, and take in too much sodium.”

Which begs the question: Why promote cereals and sodas that are unhealthy to children at all? And why are those that are most unhealthy the kinds that are most aggressively marketed?

Internet promotional activities have become an anchor for food and drink marketing, the report says. Over 90 percent of companies involved in the report engaged in online marketing in 2009, far cheaper than TV and other media, and far more interactive. Nine of the top 10 consumer goods companies advertised on 13 of the most popular children’s websites, while Coca-Cola was one of four perpetrators in attracting 200,000 unique child visitors under the age of 11 to affiliate sites per month. The company also spent 30 percent of their advertising budget on the “consumer” group aged 2 to 17 – this despite paying lip service to their global Responsible Marketing Policy, started in 2010. Their collection of children’s toys is also creepy.

Though they have “always taken seriously [their] commitment to market responsibly, across the globe, across all advertising media, and across all of [their] beverages,” their advertising to U.S. children and teens was on the rise only two years later. Considering over 80 percent of children under 5 years of age access the internet at least once per week, there seems to be nothing socially responsible about Coke’s marketing policies, but entirely responsible to their bottom line.

The other somewhat good news is that nutrition in “quick service” children’s meals also improved marginally – “quick service” of course referring to fast food, a generally unhealthy meal anyhow, but that’s another article for another day.