Fat children should see fewer fat ads, federal work group concludes

sugarThe belt around advertising to kids that pushes foods full of salt, sugar and/or saturated fat tightened another notch this week when a group of representatives from the FTC, FDA, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on its suggestions for new federal guidelines.

The group, operating under a provision of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, released the draft at a public forum hosted by the FTC.

The stakes in this market are high. According to a report by the FTC in July of 2008, the 44 companies that it reviewed spent over $1.6 billion in 2006 promoting food and beverages to children. Almost a third of this amount went for carbonated drinks. This did not include toy premiums in kid's fast-food meals, which would have added another $360 million.

The group's draft recommendations, according to an excellent article by Jill Richardson in the blog La Vida Locavore, included limiting marketing to children of items high in saturated fat, those containing trans fat and those high in sugar and/or sodium. The group excluded water, fruits and fruit juices, vegetables and veggie juices (except for the sodium concern), some dairy products, and whole grain foods from the proposed guidelines.

The group is still wrestling with some of the thorny issues surrounding this topic, such as serving sizes, restaurant menus, the differing nutritional needs of children at opposite ends of this age spectrum, and how to distinguish among vegetables that have very different nutritional value (spinach vs. potato, for example).

The group will soon open up these proposed guidelines for public input, after which a final proposal will be sent to Congress for consideration.

At the same forum, the Grocery Manufacturers Association gave a presentation claiming that the industry has already taken major strides toward reducing the marketing of foods of questionable nutritional value to kids. It reported that, from 2004 to 2008, children saw 31% fewer food, beverage and restaurant ads on childrens television programs, and that in the last 15 years the percentage of these types of ads on all television shows that were seen by kids is down 27%. In October of this year it, along with numerous other partners, formed the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation to reduce obesity, particularly in children, by 2015. A war chest of $20 million was gathered to jump-start the effort.

Here's a couple of examples of the type of commercial that may soon disappear.

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