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Advertising Industry Addresses Childhood Obesity Challenge

June 24, 2013

Last week, the World Health Organization’s Europe office called for tighter controls on the marketing of food to children in order to fight childhood obesity.  At the same time, the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease while a few U.S. Senators are pressuring Viacom to follow Disney’s lead to no longer accept advertisements for unhealthy foods. As momentum continues to regulate advertising directed towards children, the advertising community, which firmly believes that childhood obesity is a serious national challenge, has taken proactive measures to address this epidemic and encourage children to lead healthy and active lifestyles.

In 2009, the industry came together to form the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a CEO-led coalition designed to help reduce obesity – especially childhood obesity – by 2015. The coalition, which includes more than 230 retailers, food and beverage companies, restaurants, sporting goods companies, professional sports organizations and others, made a pledge in 2010 that its member companies will collectively cut 1.5 trillion calories from their products by the end of 2015.

This initiative has been extremely successful. In March of this year, the Foundation announced that it had exceeded the goal of reducing 1.5 trillion calories in the U.S. marketplace two years ahead of schedule. Companies met this goal by offering low calorie options of products, changing product recipes to allow for lower calorie counts, and reducing portion sizes of single-serve products.

The Foundation has also been working alongside First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move” Initiative. The Ad Council was chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama to produce a series of public service ads to promote the initiative. According to studies conducted by The Ad Council, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the campaigns are having a significant impact on attitudes and behaviors. Significant numbers of respondents report that their eating habits and activity levels are much healthier.  Media companies, including broadcast, cable, online, print and outdoor, have donated millions of dollars in public service advertising time and space to this effort.

Proactively, the advertising industry also created a self-governing program, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).  The voluntary commitment of the 17 member companies – companies that carry out more than 80 percent of all food, beverage, and restaurant advertisements directed to children under the age of 12 in the United States – has significantly changed the landscape of children’s advertising. Major quick service restaurants now advertise kids’ meals with apple products and low fat milk. Other participating food manufacturers have significantly lowered sodium or sugar content of the products they advertise to children and some major confectionary and soft drink manufacturers have voluntarily committed not to advertise on child-directed media.

The CFBAI reports that over 80 percent of its members’ products now being advertised on child-directed media are a good source of nutrients that children do not get enough of in their diets, including calcium and fiber. As of 2010, all participating companies are required to direct advertising toward children under the age of 12 to products that are healthier. These significant and voluntary efforts undertaken to improve the food advertised to children have been a major step forward in the fight against childhood obesity.

The advertising industry has made tremendous strides to voluntarily address childhood obesity – through its support of the Let’s Move effort, participation in the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, and voluntary efforts limiting the types of ads that appear on children’s programming. As public officials and medical professionals continue to tackle childhood obesity, so too will the advertising industry, as it continues to play a major role in helping people to lead healthier and more active lives.

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