Proposed Federal Standards for Foods Marketed to Children Praised


April 28, 2011

The Center for Science in the Public Interest praised as “strong and sensible” the nutrition and marketing standards proposed today by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children and urged food and entertainment companies to adopt the standards.

The Interagency Working Group, comprised of officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was tasked by Congress to develop a set of voluntary standards for food marketing to children under 17. The Working Group was required by a law championed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and CSPI.

“A key weakness of the current self-regulatory approach to food marketing to children is that each company has its own strategically tailored standards,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI. “While overall the standards look fairly similar, many have loopholes, like weak or no sodium standards for fast-food companies and weak sugar standards for cereal marketers.”

In the past few years, a number of food and entertainment companies have announced policies on food marketing to children independently or through the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. However, several studies show that those self-regulatory efforts are not having the desired impact. For instance, according to CSPI research, from before the self-regulatory program was in place, in 2005, to after, in 2009, ads for foods of poor nutritional quality decreased only slightly on Nickelodeon, the most popular children’s television station—from 88 percent to 79 percent of food ads.

“Companies’ policies aren’t making enough of a difference,” said Wootan. “If companies are serious about addressing marketing to children, they‘ll agree to follow the proposed national marketing standards.”

Three decades ago, when the Federal Trade Commission first considered protecting children’s health by restricting junk-food ads on children’s television, Congress stepped in to restrict the agency’s authority. That proved to be a mistake, according to CSPI, because the advertising continued unabated and children today are now three times more likely to be overweight or obese as they were then.

Food companies spend approximately $2 billion a year on marketing foods and beverages to children, mostly for foods high in calories, fats, sugars, and sodium, and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and key nutrients.

Curbing food marketing aimed at children is one of five major goals of Food Day, a new grassroots mobilization launched by CSPI. Led by honorary co-chairs Senator Harkin and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Food Day will be October 24.

 

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