The Center for Disease Control says 13 percent of the nation’s children are obese and the numbers of overweight children are increasing every year. In light of this epidemic, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is conducting a new study about how food is marketed to children and is asking for your help.
The FTC is seeking public comment as part of an effort to gather more information about 45 food, beverage and fast food restaurants and how they market to children, provide nutritional information and how much money they spend to target young children and adolescents.
Tracy Taylor, executive director of the Natural Products Foundation, said one of the major criticisms regarding food marketing has been that unhealthful or nutritionally-deficient foods were made more attractive to children and adolescents through advertising. As a result, kids were choosing a food of minimal nutritional value marketed alongside a popular cartoon character versus a less glamorous choice, like a fresh fruit or vegetable.
“Because the natural sector has always been concerned with getting foods to market that not only taste good but are good for you, we’re already way ahead of the curve in this regard,” Taylor said. “In fact, the FTC has recommended that media and entertainment companies limit their licensing and advertising to products that actually promote health. This is a trend that will continue and hopefully offer more opportunities for natural category foods and beverages to find their way into more homes and lunch boxes.”
The FTC will use public input to provide a comparison to information from a 2006 study the commission published last year. The new study is designed to help the FTC gauge how the industry has regulated itself since 2006, said FTC spokeswoman Betsy Lordan.
“The FTC would like to find that the food and media industries are promoting healthier choices for children and adolescents,” Lordan said.
The information also will include new information about how advertising is geared toward children of a specific gender, race, ethnicity and family income.
Following the 2006 study, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative was implemented and provided guidance for nutritional content and marketing practices. It was an initiative of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Lordan said. It called for:
• A reduction of the use of third-party licensed characters in advertising primarily directed to children younger than 12.
• No food and beverage product placement in editorial or entertainment content that is primarily directed to children younger than 12.
• A change in interactive games that are primarily directed to children that include the company’s food or beverage brands to incorporate healthy messages in the games.
Comments must be submitted by Nov. 23 and should refer to ‘‘Food Industry Marketing to Children and Adolescents Study: Paperwork Comment; Project No. P094511.’’ Comments are being accepted at regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#home.
In addition, the FTC will host a public forum on Dec. 15 at its Satellite Building Conference Center, 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W. in Washington, D.C. The forum, “Sizing up Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity” is designed to gather industry representatives, federal regulators, consumer groups, scientific researchers, and legal scholars to discuss issues related to food marketing to children.
The forum will address the food and entertainment industries’ progress toward self-regulation and implementation of the recommendations in the FTC’s 2008 report, “Marketing Foods to Children and Adolescents: A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation.” The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children – made up of the FTC, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Department of Agriculture – will report on the status of recommended nutritional standards for foods marketed to children.
Requests to attend the forum should be submitted by e-mail to [email protected] or by calling 202-326-3388.