Food Industry To Propose Voluntary Limits on Advertisements To Address Childhood Obesity Concerns
The Grocery Manufacturers Association on Friday plans to make proposals for new voluntary limits on food advertisements that target children because of "growing pressure" from lawmakers and child advocacy groups over the role of food companies in childhood obesity, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, the proposals mark "the industry's latest effort to stave off legislation and government regulation" of ads that target children.
Food companies this week will meet with HHS and the Federal Trade Commission to advocate for industry regulation of such ads. The food industry currently regulates ads that target children through the Children's Advertising Review Unit, which is funded in large part by companies that purchase such ads. GMA likely will present the proposals as "suggestions" to CARU, the Journal reports.
The proposals likely will recommend limits on product placement in television programs that target children, use of licensed characters in ads and food packages and "advergaming," in which food companies place brand-name candy, soft drinks and cereal in online games. The proposals also likely will recommend that food companies increase the CARU budget and that the unit increase staff levels. In addition, the proposals likely will seek to "make CARU's monitoring process more transparent" and recommend a voluntary process under which CARU would prescreen food ads that target children, the Journal reports.
According to the Journal, the proposals will not recommend nutritional standards for ads that target children.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has introduced a bill that would provide the federal government with more authority over food ads, said that he seeks to work with the food industry to address issues related to ads that target children. He said that "the problem with CARU is that they have no teeth, no real enforcement mechanisms." Harkin added, "A handful of people are tasked to provide oversight to a multibillion-dollar industry. The deck seems a bit stacked to me."
Representatives for Kellogg, General Mills and Kraft have expressed support for the proposals that GMA plans to make (Ellison, Wall Street Journal, 7/13).
However, health care advocates maintain that food companies will not limit ads that target children. "By allowing the food industry to hijack this meeting, the FTC and HHS have abandoned their commitment to children and families," Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said.
Michele Simon, director of the Center for Informed Food Choices, added, "The GMA is on record as opposing every state bill that would restrict the sale of junk food and sodas in schools" (Tharp, New York Post, 7/14).
"It should be obvious that self-regulation has not done much to stem the rise of childhood obesity," a San Francisco Chronicle editorial states. However, FTC Chair Deborah Platt Majoras in a recent speech in Chicago "signaled ... that any form of government regulation won't even be seriously considered," according to the editorial.
The editorial states that "self-regulation must be part of any strategy to limit the negative impact of marketing unhealthy products to children" but adds that "government oversight should not be ruled out." The editorial concludes that FTC should establish nutrition standards for ads that target children and develop guidelines for the promotion of "foods, beverages and sedentary entertainment" (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13).