Crackdown continues on kids' foods and ads

The movement to more strictly regulate what foods can be sold to children and how they are marketed gained momentum as 2006 drew to a close with a spate of regulation changes. The strongest action occurred in the UK, where junk-food ads have been banned during any TV programmes that appeal to an audience under the age of 16. Only foods that meet strict restrictions on fat, sugar and salt levels will be allowed to advertise during such broadcasts.

The unexpected decision, taken by the UK communications regulator, Ofcom, caused an uproar within the indu stry, which claimed it would be ineffective in changing children's eating patterns and therefore do little to curb youth obesity. The industry complained it would drive advertising to the Internet; crimp product development; and restrict advertising for foods few would consider as unhealthy for children — cheese, Greek yoghurt, porridge, some bran cereals and sultanas — but which may exceed what the food industry is calling unrealistic limits on fat, salt and sugar.

Changes in UK regulations are causing an uproar within the food industry, but others think they don't go far enough
A spokesperson said the UK Food and Drink Federation was shocked by the severity of the restrictions, but consumer watchdog Which? said they did not go far enough and called for a watershed ban on all foods that fail the nutrient-profile criteria. Ofcom said the regulations would spur food companies to develop products with healthier nutrient profiles that could be advertised to children.

Further east, Latvia became the first European Union member state to ban junk foods in school vending machines. The ban includes confectionery; chewing gum; potato crisps; and all foods and drinks containing artificial additives, including colourings, flavourings, preservatives, caffeine and amino acids.

In the US, 10 major food companies, including PepsiCo and Kraft, have established the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a voluntary programme whose intent is to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles and more strictly self-regulate children's television advertising. Ten companies account for more than two thirds of these ads. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) condemned self-regulation as a "proven flop" while applauding the UK action.

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