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Major Proposal from Interagency Working Group Calls for Voluntary Restrictions on Food Marketing to Children

The Interagency Working Group has released its recommendations for food marketing to children.  The report, the “Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts Request for Comments,” was released on the Federal Trade Commission’s website this morning.  It was in response to a 2009 Congressional request for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to recommend standards on marketing of foods to children 17 years old and younger. 

The Interagency Working Group’s (IWG) Proposed Nutrition Principles are meant to guide industry in determining which foods are “appropriate” to market to children.  The two-tiered approach differentiates between foods that make a “meaningful contribution to a healthful diet” and those foods that should be limited in regard to advertising, based on their nutritional content. 

These are sweeping and in our view overly restrictive proposals which become dramatically more restrictive after a five-year phase-in period.  The guidelines would cover a vast amount of foods, beverages, and meals, including dairy products, prepared foods, breakfast cereals, and numerous other categories.  The IWG proposals set strict nutritional guidelines to be met for foods to be marketed to children 17 and under.  Despite calling these proposals ‘voluntary,’ the government clearly is trying to place major pressure on the food, beverage and restaurant industries on what can and cannot be advertised. 

These draft standards would apply to both children 2-11 and to adolescents 12-17.  In its request for comments, the IWG acknowledges that there are developmental differences between adolescents and younger children, but is still considering a more-narrowly defined, yet still restrictive, set of guidelines geared toward adolescents covering various forms of new media.  We believe that treating teenagers as if they were young children in regard to advertising in any media is not appropriate.

Additionally, in choosing what foods to include in the guidelines, the IWG relied on 2006 data to determine ad spending directed to children.  The IWG report is based on limited and outdated information.  Data that the industry has more recently analyzed shows food and beverage advertising directed to children on a significant downward trend.  For example, a study carried out by the Georgetown Economic Services for the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the ANA utilizing 2010 Nielsen data, found the number of ads for foods and beverages seen by children 2-11 has declined by over 50% since 2004.

However, we are encouraged by the IWG’s support for self-regulation.  The advertising industry has made tremendous strides through the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) in shifting the mix of advertising to better-for-you options.  Also, food companies have reformulated over 20,000 products to provide more healthful and lower calorie options for the public.  The advertising industry is taking and will continue to take major steps to improve the health of all Americans.  Additionally, The Ad Council is working with the First Lady on her “Let’s Move” Initiative and with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on its ‘Small Step’ program to encourage healthier lifestyle choices.  Media companies (broadcast, cable, online, print and outdoor) have donated almost half a billion dollars in public service advertising time and space to this effort.

The IWG has asked for comments by June 13, 2011.   We hope that the IWG will provide more time for detailed comments considering the sweeping scope and complexity of their proposals and further modify them as it receives input from the various stakeholders, including from ANA.

If you have any questions, you can contact Dan Jaffe in ANA’s Washington office at 202-296-2359 or at djaffe@ana.net.

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