FTC tackles childhood obesity

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have issued a series of joint recommendations to the food and media industries in an intensified bid to tackle America's childhood obesity problem, which has tripled among adolescents and doubled among younger children since 1980.

"Responsible, industry-generated action and effective self-regulation are critical to addressing the national problem of childhood obesity," said FTC chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras. "The FTC plans to monitor industry efforts closely, and we expect to see real improvements."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food-nutrition lobbying group, welcomed the report. "This is the first acknowledgment by the FTC that there should be nutrition standards for food that's marketed to kids," CSPI director of nutrition policy Margo Wootan said.

However, junk food critic Sen. Tom Harkin was disappointed the report stopped at recommendations "without imposing any requirements on an industry largely out of control." He added: "If industry fails at the task of self-regulation, stronger government action will be necessary."

Media companies were told to rethink children's food marketing policies such as product placement and character licensing. Recommendations for the food industry included:

  • intensifying efforts to create new products and reformulate existing ones to make them lower in calories, more nutritious, more appealing to children, and more convenient to prepare and eat;
  • helping consumers control calories through smaller portions;
  • exploring labelling initiatives, including icons and seals, to clearly identify lower-calorie, nutritious foods;
  • reviewing and revising marketing practices with the goal of improving the overall nutritional profile of foods marketed to children;
  • improving public education about nutrition and fitness;
  • improving the nutritional profile of school foods;
  • tailoring low-calorie, nutritious foods to racial and ethnic populations.

In Australia, Diabetes Australia and The Cancer Council have called for similar measures while the state of Victoria will ban carbonated and sugary soft drinks from schools this year. In the US, the beverage industry last week agreed to remove all sodas from elementary and middle schools, and sell only water, unsweetened juices and low-fat milk. High school students will also be permitted diet sodas and low-calorie teas and sports drinks.

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