Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Proposed Guidelines for Advertising to Children

Representatives  (hereafter the "Working Group") from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Comission (FTC), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have set forth preliminary guidelines for the advertising of food to children.  The goal of this initiative is ultimately to reduce the ever growing obesity rate of America's children.  If you are interested in commenting on these guidelines, use the links above.

According to the a study conducted by the FTC in 2008, 70% of all marketed food to children and adolescents fall into three major categories:  breakfast cereals, snack foods and restaurant foods.  Additionally, the Working Group has identified ten categories most marketed to children ages 2-17: breakfast cereal, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked goods, carbonated beverages, fruit juices and non-carbonated beverages, prepared foods and meals, frozen and chilled deserts, and restaurant foods.

The Working Group representatives have outlined two options for the composition of meals marketed to children.  They request comments from the public on these options:

Option 1: Under option 1, the food marketed to children would contain at least 50% by weight from one of the following categories:  fruit, vegetable, whole-grain, fat-free/low fat dairy, fish, extra lean meat or poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, or beans.  
Option 2 : Under option 2, specific minimum contributions would be provided from each of the food groups listed in option 1 (fruit, vegetable etc.)  For individual foods, the product would meet guidelines if it contained the specified amount of at least one, or a combination of more than one of the listed food groups.  

Additionally, the Working Group suggests established minimum levels of trans fat, saturated fat, added sugars and sodium shall be present in all foods marketed to children.

If implemented, these guidelines are expected to by met by food companies by the year 2016.  Although guidelines are not legally binding, food and drug companies are heavily pressured to follow any established guidelines set forth by the FDA.  These guidelines reflect the current thinking of the FDA, and as the FDA does ultimately have the power to shutdown a food or drug company it is in the best interest of such companies to align their business with the current thinking of their regulatory agency.

I support the guidelines set forth by the Working Group, although I do not believe that these guidelines, if followed, will do enough to reverse the ever increasing childhood obesity rates.   It is, however, a start to a trend which I hope will continue.  Currently there are no regulations regarding advertising "junk food" to children.

This type of news almost always elicits this response on which I'd like to comment:
"There is no proof that advertising junk food to children increases obesity rates." 
Just like all hotly debated subjects in which one party has a lot to lose from certain results being conclusive, there are studies that disprove advertising to children increases the rate of consumption of junk food and therefore obesity rates.  There are also studies that prove that very same point.  

In my opinion, we are wasting time trying to decide just how much or little these unregulated advertisements affect children weight.  The real issue here is that junk foods are not good for a child's health.  This point cannot be argued. Obviously how much, or how little junk food a child eats as part of their daily diet affects how unhealthy these foods will be for their overall health.  Ultimately, however, these foods are not good for health.  Additionally, there is a reason why food companies pay millions and millions of dollars to advertising agencies and TV networks to advertise to children: their product sells more if they advertise.  If the companies didn't sell more food from advertising the companies would not advertise.  

Advertising unhealthy food options is but one piece to solving the childhood obesity puzzle.  Although it will not  eliminate obesity on its own, I do support the initiative to begin regulating junk food advertisements to children.

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