Government wants limits on junk food advertising targeted at children
The federal government last week called on the food, advertising and entertainment industries to limit the marketing of junk food to kids. However, two agencies said the industries should take all these steps voluntarily without further government regulation. In a jointly released report on food marketing and obesity, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Trade Commission said the industries should voluntarily set minimum nutrition standards for foods that can be marketed to children.
The recommendations were not as strong as those issued late last year by the Institute of Medicine that said Congress should mandate changes if food and beverage manufacturers fail to promote healthful products in the next two years. The national science advisory panel said licensed characters should be used only to promote healthful products.
The report said the government should not ban or restrict food advertisements aimed at children. Citing a previous unsuccessful FTC attempt in the 1970s to regulate TV food advertisements directed to children-Congress stepped in and barred the agency from taking any such action-the report said “it would be difficult for the government to develop advertising restrictions that are practical and effective.”
The report says that children saw fewer paid television ads in 2004-17,506 or a 12.5 percent drop from 1977 when they saw 20,000. But the report acknowledges that companies promote their products in far more diverse ways now than they did in 1977.
Following a comprehensive review of industry initiatives as well as suggestions and criticism from inside and outside the industry, the agencies offered the following recommendations to food companies:
* intensify efforts to create new products and reformulate existing products to make them lower in calories, more nutritious, more appealing to children, and more convenient to prepare and eat;
* help consumers control amounts eaten and calories consumed, through smaller portions, single-serving packages, and other packaging cues;
* explore labeling initiatives, including icons and seals, to identify lower-calorie, nutritious foods clearly and in a manner that does not mislead consumers;
* review and revise their marketing practices with the goal of improving the overall nutritional profile of the foods marketed to children, for example, by adopting minimum nutritional standards for the foods they market to children, or by otherwise shifting emphasis to lower-calorie, more nutritious products; and
* generally explore ways to improve efforts to educate consumers about nutrition and fitness, with simple and effective messages.
Meanwhile, the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), the food and advertising industry’s self-regulatory body that oversees commercials aimed at kids, already has begun reviewing its rules to see if it should expand its oversight. It is not only considering more stringent requirements on the newer media, including the Internet, but also new rules on the kinds of foods that should be marketed to kids. Up to now, CARU has only taken action against companies when it considered an ad to be deceptive or inappropriate for the intended age.
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