Little Improvement Seen in Food Marketing to Children
Statement of CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan
December 21, 2012
Today's report from the Federal Trade Commission indicates that much more needs to be done if industry self-regulation of food marketing to children is to become an effective way to protect children's health. Self-regulation has led to only modest improvements in the way food and media companies market and advertise food to children. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of foods advertised to kids is still of poor nutritional quality.
It's a step forward that the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative adopted a common set of nutrition standards. But even under its "new and improved" standards, Cocoa Puffs, Popsicles, SpagettiOs, and Fruit Roll-Ups are considered nutritious foods that companies can actively promote to children. Unfortunately the food industry succeeded in killing the federal Interagency Working Group's excellent voluntary guidelines.
Companies have taken steps to expand what they consider to be marketing to children. But it's crazy for companies to claim that putting Dora the Explorer on a Popsicle package or promoting Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys in Happy Meals isn't marketing to kids.
More companies need to take responsibility for what they market to children. Unlike Disney and Qubo, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network have not agreed to limit unhealthy food advertising during their children's television programming or on their websites. Chuck E. Cheese's, Topps Candy, IHOP, and all food companies that market to children should join the CFBAI.
Although the FTC found that food marketing expenditures have declined, it's unlikely that kids are exposed to less marketing of unhealthy foods. Companies have increased their use of Internet, tablet, and cell phone marketing, which are less expensive—and more interactive—than television ads. And, $1.8 billion a year in spending is still a huge investment in implanting marketing messages on impressionable, still-developing young brains. If industry wants to continue to enjoy its extraordinary freedom to self-regulate in this area, those messages must not promote foods that promote obesity, diabetes, and other nutrition-related diseases in children.