Set of voluntary nutrition and advertising guidelines up for public comment
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — As childhood obesity becomes an increasingly widespread problem, three federal agencies have teamed up with food manufacturers to develop a set of voluntary advertising and nutritional guidelines that would dramatically change the way snack foods are presented to children 17 or younger. Many of the products currently advertised to kids would not meet the new guidelines.
The guidelines would affect both television advertising as well the increasingly common ads on social media networks like Facebook and MySpace. Basically, the Obama administration, backed by Congress, wants food companies to cut back on aggressively advertising junk food to youngsters. At this point, the agencies have issued a draft proposal outlining several options and wants public feedback.
The upward spiral of obesity rates has slowed in the past few years, but still, nearly one in three American children are overweight, as defined by Center for Disease Control standards. According to the latest figures available (from 2007-2008), 10.4 of U.S. children aged 2 to 5 are obese, 19.6 percent of 6-11 year olds are obese and 18.1 percent of 12-19 year olds are obese.
“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,” Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat and chair of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a press release. “Armed with these guidelines, it is now my hope that companies will voluntarily abide by them.”
If adopted, the new guidelines could upend the world of children’s food advertising. They call for emphasizing ads for foods that “make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet” and minimize ingredients that could have a negative impact on weight and health.
The industry claims it’s already made some progress by eliminating TV ads for cookies and sodas aimed at kids under 12, and cites statistics showing that ads for fruit and vegetable juices have doubled.
The proposed definitions are broadly defined to encompass virtually all types of advertising directed at youth. Here’s an excerpt from a preliminary report on the proposed guidelines describing what types of advertising would be covered:
The Working Group’s proposed definitions thus incorporate the 20 categories of advertising, marketing, and promotional activities identified in the FTC’s food marketing study definitions. These include: television, radio, and print advertising; company- sponsored web sites, ads on third-party Internet sites, and other digital advertising, such as email and text messaging; packaging and point-of-purchase displays and other in-store marketing tools; advertising and product placement in movies, videos, and video games; premium distribution, contests, and sweepstakes; cross promotions, including character licensing and toy co-branding; sponsorship of events, sports teams, and individual athletes; word-of-mouth and viral marketing; celebrity endorsements; in-school marketing; philanthropic activity tied to branding opportunities; and a catch-all other category.
To meet tough new nutritional guidelines, many food products would have to be reformulated.
“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 said in a statement.
Here’s some more language from the draft plan:
Many food products currently in the marketplace may require substantial reformulation to meet the proposed principles. The Working Group recognizes that such reformulation may present both technical challenges and challenges relating to the palatability and consumer acceptance of the food. What impact will reformulation challenges have on manufacturers’ incentive and ability to improve the nutritional quality of the foods they market to children to meet the proposed principles? Given these challenges, what would be the best approach to encourage the greatest participation from the food industry?
For now, the guidelines are in a draft version for public comment. Among the questions that need to be answered, the federal agencies want to know if there are potential antitrust implications to the new guidelines, and whether they raise commercial free speech or even first amendment issues.
Filed under: business, Colorado, federal government, Summit County Colorado, Summit County news Tagged: | Advertising, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Trade Commission, FTC guidelines, health, Junk food, nutrition, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, Tom Harkin, TV advertising, youth obesity