The report was released by the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health-related issues. It comes at a time of growing obesity among U.S. children that some experts attribute in part to incessant marketing of so-called junk food.
The study tracked shows watched by children ages 2 to 17 on 13 broadcast and cable television networks in 2005, analyzing the advertisement quantity and content. Children saw many thousands of food ads a year, most touting unhealthy products, it found.
Children ages 8 to 12 viewed the most food ads, on average, 21 daily and more than 7,600 a year totalling nearly 51 hours. Those ages 13 to 17 viewed 17 food ads daily and more than 6,000 a year totalling nearly 41 hours.
Children ages 2 to 7 saw 12 food ads daily and 4,400 a year totalling almost 30 hours. These younger children watched less TV overall and were more likely to watch channels with limited or no advertising like PBS and Disney.
Half of all ad time on children's shows was for food products, a higher proportion than for any type of show. About 80 percent of these were for candy, snack foods like chips, sugary cereals, fast food, sodas and other soft drinks.
The findings were based on a sample of 1,638 hours of TV programming that included 8,854 food ads. Some shows were specifically made for children and others not. Of all the ads, none touted fruits or vegetables.
"The study makes clear that kids of all ages in this country are exposed to what I think we'd all agree is a large amount of food advertising on television," said Vicky Rideout, who studies the influence of the entertainment media on health for the foundation.
Margo Wootan of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, which has spotlighted nutritional shortcomings of many popular foods, said industry self-regulation is not working.
"The problem is that food marketing almost makes us parents out to be liars, that the kind of diet that we encourage our children to eat is light years away from the kind of diet that food marketers market as desirable to eat," Wootan said