Kids today are watching more candy advertisements than ever. Despite efforts to reduce advertising sweets to children under 11, a new study is finding that the candy industry is even stronger now than it’s been before, and children of all ages are being exposed.

In a report published in the journal Appetite, researchers examined what types of candy advertisements, as well as how many ads children below the age of 11 have been watching since 2007. They picked this year specifically because it was also the year that launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), created to diminish the degree of unhealthy food ads kids were exposed to. The researchers examined the TV advertisements for 36 brands of candy created by 16 companies until the year 2011.

Overall, they found that despite this initiative, candy ads have been on the rise. From 2008 to 2011, children’s exposure to candy advertisements increased by 74 percent, amounting to 279 ads viewed in 2008, and jumping to 485 ads in 2011. Advertisements from companies like Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and Kraft have increased 152 percent, the team also observed.

Interestingly enough, out of the 485 candy ads kids viewed, 365 of them came from companies participating in CFBAI, while 315 came from companies that explicitly said they would not advertise to children under 11. Of these ads, a third were said to premiere on television networks, like Nick at Nite or ABC Family, that researchers found to have a “higher than average” amount of viewers below 18 years old.

“Despite candy companies' promises in 2007 to not advertise to children under 12 on TV, children saw substantially more,” said Megan LoDolce of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

But the researchers concede that these advertisements do not count as direct marketing targeted toward children, as specified by the CFBAI. The Council for Better Business Bureaus (BBB), the organization that created the CFBAI upholds this claim, saying that none of these companies failed to keep their promise.

“Looking at techniques such as animation or subjective factors, such as whether the ad includes fun/hip messaging, is not a reliable way to determine that an ad is child-directed on such programming,” representatives of the organization said in statement. “Teens and even adults also find such techniques or messaging appealing and they are commonly used in ads for insurance and other prosaic products. CFBAI’s focus always has been on improving the children’s advertising landscape, and we’ve succeeded in doing that.”

But, LoDolce says this is still indicative of larger problems with how these companies approach advertising. “This case highlights a real problem with industry self-regulation, as children are seeing more advertising not less,” LoDolce said. “Findings suggest that companies can and should do much more to tighten their definitions of child-directed advertising if they want to keep their promises.”

LoDolce certainly has a point. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the childhood obesity epidemic is only increasing; nearly 18 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are considered obese, whereas only 7 percent fit this category in 1980. Similarly, kids and teens ages 12 to 19 are experiencing increases in obesity, as the population has shifted from 5 percent in 1980 to 21 percent in 2012.

While more research is necessary to determine if ads, even those that are supposedly not targeted at kids, are enabling the obesity epidemic, it is safe to say that an increase in exposure will certainly not help the problem. The study also suggests that CFBAI, as it stands now, must be amended to no longer be a voluntary initiative that allows those who do participate still perpetuate the problem.

Source: LoDolce M, Harris J, Dembek C, et al. Sweet promises: Candy advertising to children and implications for industry self-regulation. 2015.