Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Federal Trade Commission Urges Healthier Food Choices for Children as Obesity Rises

This posting was written by Sarah Borchersen-Keto, CCH Washington Correspondent.

In response to rising levels of childhood obesity across the nation, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is calling on the food and media industries to promote healthier food choices for children and adolescents.

A new FTC report, Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents: A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation, released July 29, shows that 44 major food and beverage marketers spent $1.6 billion in 2006 promoting their products to children and adolescents. The report was commissioned in 2005 by Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) to help Congress examine the effectiveness of self-regulatory frameworks to change the pattern of advertising to children and curb childhood obesity.

“While many food and beverage companies have pledged to market healthier options to kids through self-regulatory programs, I want to see real results and changes in the types of products marketed towards children. If these programs do not produce significant changes--government will have to act,” Harkin said.

The report notes that food advertising to youth is marked by integrated advertising campaigns that combine traditional media, along with packaging, in-store advertising, and the Internet. The ad campaigns often involve cross-promotion with a new movie or popular television program.

FTC Recommendations

The FTC is recommending that all companies that market food or beverage products to children under 12 adopt “meaningful, nutrition-based standards” for their products, which extend to all advertising and promotional techniques. Companies also should improve the nutritional profiles of products marketed to children and adolescents, whether in or outside of schools. They should cease the in-school promotion of products that do not meet nutritional standards and improve the quality and consistency of the nutritional criteria adopted for “better for you” products.

Food and Beverage Industry Progress

While acknowledging that there is room for improvement, the food and beverage industries have made significant progress since 2005, the FTC concluded. To date, 13 of the largest food and beverage companies have pledged not to advertise to children under 12 or to limit their television, radio, print, and Internet advertising to foods that meet specified nutritional standards. Several major food and beverage companies have also adopted the Alliance for a Healthier Generation guidelines, which are designed to lower the caloric value and increase the nutritional value of foods and drinks sold in schools outside the school meal program.

Council of Better Business Bureaus Report

Separately, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB) on July 29 released its first report on the progress made by participants in BBB’s self-regulation program, the Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative.

“The participants in the Initiative are to be commended for their leadership in taking proactive steps to address concerns about advertising directed to children under 12 and childhood obesity,” said Elaine Kolish, director of the Initiative.

The report is available on the Council of Better Business Bureaus Web site: www.bbb.org.

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