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White House Asks Advertisers To Curtail Junk Food Ads

April 29, 2011

The Obama administration Thursday called for food companies to cut back on their aggressive advertising of junk foods to children, saying the marketing campaigns contribute to a serious health crisis in America’s younger generation.

The administration issued proposed voluntary principles which would replace current children’s food advertising with advertising for foods that “make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet” and minimize ingredients that could have a negative impact on health.

The administration, in keeping up with its goals of shrinking healthcare costs, has emphasized children’s health. The “Let’s Move” campaign, implemented by First Lady Michelle Obama, has pushed children to exercise more and eat healthier.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are the agencies involved in the release of the principles. The group put together the proposal after prompts made by Congress.

If the guidelines are accepted, it would translate to a revolution in food advertising to children, which is dominated by ads for salty snacks and sugary cereals, drinks and yogurt.

“The (FTC) commission is aware of the significant impact the proposal would have on the current marketplace. A significant percentage of the products currently marketed to children would not meet the proposed nutrition principles. Some foods would likely require substantial reformulation,” the five FTC commissioners told Reuters in a statement.

While obesity rates have slowed, 10.4 percent of children in the US between 2 and 5 are considered obese, 19.6 percent of those 6 to 11 are obese and 18.1 percent of 12 to 19 year olds are obese, according to data from the CDC. The data also notes that 33 percent of US children are overweight.

“On a daily basis, kids across the country are barraged with ads for junk foods and it is long past time that we put some limits on the advertising of these unhealthy foods. Armed with these guidelines, it is now my hope that companies will voluntarily abide by them,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat-Iowa Democrat, who is chair of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, in a statement.

A study released Thursday by the Association of National Advertisers and Grocery Manufacturers Association showed that TV advertisements of junk foods — including cookies and soda — aimed at children under 12 had mostly been eliminated.

The study also noted that ads for fruit and vegetable juices had nearly doubled.

“The advertising community has actively responded to the obesity challenge in the United States and this study once again confirms that food and beverage advertising directed to children under 12 has trended significantly downwards,” said Bob Liodice, ANA president.

Margo Wootan, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, praised candy company Mars for stopping TV advertising aimed at children and some cereal companies for cutting their sugar content.

“They should get credit for making some progress in the past five or six years. But the problem is it’s not nearly enough,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing with the high concern of childhood obesity that the overwhelming majority of ads to kids are for fast food.”

Wootan said it would be remarkable if companies were to reformulate their foods to make them healthier or to end ads of salty and sugary foods to children all together.

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