Food and beverage marketers are spending more than ever to reach kids where they live -- online. Games, cross-promotions with movies and TV, contests...it's the new frontier for marketers trying to reach the new generation. And it's a frontier where the regulators who usually monitor these sorts of things are not yet arrived.

That's what a Federal Trade Commission report released Tuesday has found. The largest food and beverage companies spent about $1.6 billion in 2006 on marketing their products to children. And more than two-thirds of the 44 companies responding in the survey reported having online activities geared toward youth.

The commission studied spending directed at children ages 2-17. A huge $492 million was spent marketing soda, the commission found, with a vast majority of that spending directed toward adolescents. Fast food restaurants reported spending close to $294 million, which was divided about evenly between children and adolescents. For cereals, companies spent about $237 million, with the vast majority of that targeted to children under age 12, according to the report.

Experts warned that parents who want to influence what their children eat need to be aware that TV isn't the main pusher of sugar-coated crap these days. Kathryn Montgomery, a communication professor at American University cited in news reports on the report, says that, "On the Internet, it's virtually an unregulated media environment and one that's hard for people to keep track of."

Makes sense. Who watches TV anymore? I mean, if you're under the age of 30?

As the mom of two grade-school kids who fight over who gets their hour of internet time first each day, all I can recommend is that you parent by example. Eat healthy foods and offer healthy choices. in the end, the best solution to this hi-tech assault is the old-fashioned tried and true method: Don't buy it. Your kids can't guzzle sodas all day, no matter how much they want to, if you refuse to keep it in your home.

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