Analysis: Government's Proposed Standards for Food Marketing Aimed at Kids Are Far Superior to Industry's Own

Ask the General Assembly to vote YES to start kids in Illinois off right

Industry Hopes to Continue Marketing Cocoa Puffs, Kool-Aid, and Other Junk Foods to Kids

The food industry is up in arms over a voluntary set of proposed nutrition standards for marketing to children that food companies could either adopt or ignore. The industry’s latest salvo is a competing set of voluntary nutrition standards that it says companies participating in self-regulation will implement. But according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, today’s announcement is a transparent attempt to undermine the stronger standards proposed by the government’s Interagency Working Group. And, if the industry adopts its own proposed standards, young children would continue to be bombarded with ads for such junk foods as Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisps, Reese’s Puffs, and Corn Pops cereals, Kool-Aid, many Lunchables, and sugary Popsicles.

“It’s great news that, at long last, the industry realizes that the current patchwork of inconsistent company pledges is not working, and that industry-wide nutrition guidelines are needed,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “We, along with many national health and medical organizations, call on the food and media industries to voluntarily adopt the sensible nutrition standards developed by the government agencies.”

CSPI’s analysis of foods that are currently being marketed to children finds that the industry is close to meeting the proposed voluntary ceilings for saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugars for many foods. Where most food products fall short is on making positive contributions to kids’ diets; few include enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The industry standards released today indicate that marketers intend to allow artificial fortification to make foods of poor nutritional value meet their new standards.

As instructed by Congress, an Interagency Working Group, comprised of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developed the voluntary guidelines with an eye toward reducing childhood obesity and other nutrition-related health problems. The proposed guidelines are based on government-backed, mainstream nutrition recommendations. Released in March, those guidelines recommend that foods marketed to kids not exceed certain limits on saturated and trans fats, sodium, and sugars, and contain meaningful amounts of ingredients that contribute to healthy diets, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or low-fat dairy.

In 2006, the food industry formed the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a self-regulatory program administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Up to now, participating companies have agreed to adopt their own, individually tailored policies setting nutrition criteria for foods marketed to children. Although the program has spurred some improvements, the vast majority of foods marketed to children, according to CSPI, still are of poor nutritional quality.

Though industry has charged that whole wheat bread, peanut butter, and most yogurts don’t meet the IWG’s standards, they actually do, according to CSPI.

“The food industry lost major credibility claiming that the Administration was trying to ban advertising of whole wheat bread, peanut butter, or other healthy foods to kids,” Wootan said. “The industry lost even more credibility when it fabricated a bogus study falsely claiming that the sensible, science-based standards backed by the government would result in job losses. Really, what the industry is trying to do is preserve its ability to spend $2 billion a year advertising things like Popsicle’s SpongeBob SquarePants Pop-Ups to impressionable young children.”

Also today, CSPI, the American Heart Association, American Public Health Association, National PTA, and about 80 other groups and academic experts wrote to the IWG in strong support of the draft nutrition guidelines and marketing definitions. CSPI also filed detailed comments on both the proposed nutrition principles and the marketing definitions urging that the agencies apply the nutrition guidelines to all marketing aimed at children under 12 years old, as well as marketing in preschools, elementary, middle, and high schools.