The Slow Lane: Federal agency proposes self regulation for companies marketing food to children

Posted: July 11th, 2011 | Uncategorized | No Comments

By Brook Larios | Slow Lane

The Interagency Working Group led its proposal on food marketing to children with these statistics:

• Cookies and cakes, pizza, and soda/energy/sports drinks are the top sources of calories in the diets of children 2 through 18. Chips and french fries comprise half of all the vegetables kids eat.

• The food industry spent more than $1.6 billion in 2006 alone to market foods to children that are high in calories and low in nutritional value. Their campaigns use television, the Internet, social media, video games, movies, sports and music events, in-store displays and packaging, and even schools.

• Recent surveys show that childhood obesity has become parents’ number one health concern—ahead of smoking and drug abuse—and that parents consider “TV ads promoting junk food” to be a big part of the problem.

In April, the White House proposed guidelines for marketing food to children. Generated by the collaborative Interagency Working Group, which consists of representatives from the FTC, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Agriculture, the guidelines encourage diminishing the advertising of foods high in sugar, fat and sodium to children 2 through 17 years of age, recommending that companies instead promote nutritionally beneficial foods and suggesting the definition of terms such as “advertising” and “promotion” with regard to children under 18.

Personally, I remember how thrilling I found Tony the Tiger’s “They’rrre Grrrreat!” and how intriguing I found the sprightly green Leprechaun’s magical “Lucky Charms,” and corporations know how captivating such marketing is for impressionable children—especially today’s younger generation whose affinity for technology creates voluminous advertising opportunities. Companies, such as Nestlé, for example, which has admitted it advertises to children as young as 2, hope to create lifelong customer loyalty by reaching children at such a tender age. And it’s a lucrative market—a 2006 Federal Trade Commission study of 44 companies found that food and beverage marketing to children and adolescents totals nearly $1.6 billion.

Consequently, there’s plenty of opposition to the recommendations, which although not mandatory have sufficient clout to incite House Republicans and other groups to contend they breach First Amendment Rights (while, by the way, simultaneously authoring a spending bill that funds subsidies for big agricultural farms and cutting food aid and educational support for low-income mothers and their children).

The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children seeks public comment to help shape its recommendations for enhanced industry self-regulatory efforts as part of a report requested by Congress. If you would like to contribute to the discussion, send your remarks before July 14 to:

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