Government, children, food and marketing converge in Washington


Many food and media companies observe voluntary guidelines when it comes to the marketing of food to children between the ages of 2-17. But in the face of a continued problem with childhood obesity, the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies are looking to strengthen marketing guidelines.

Two US Senators, one active and one former, led the Congressional push on the initiative, and come to the issues from either side of the political spectrum, demonstrating the universal desire of inside-the-Beltway types to keep the issue alive. One was Tom Harkin (D-IA), the other Sam Brownback (R-KS). Brownback is now serving as governor of his state.

They helped form an Interagency Working Group which included the FTC, Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal is “…to develop recommendations for the nutritional quality of food marketed to children and adolescents, ages 2 to 17,” and seek comment on same. They have now reached the seeking comment point.

Here’s what’s on the table:

“The working group proposal sets out two basic nutrition principles for foods marketed to children. Advertising and marketing should encourage children to choose foods that make meaningful contributions to a healthful diet from food groups including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra lean meat and poultry, eggs, nuts or seeds, and beans. In addition, the saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars, and sodium in foods marketed to children should be limited to minimize the negative impact on children’s health and weight. The working group proposes that industry strive to market foods by the year 2016 that meet the proposed nutritional principles and marketing criteria. For sodium, the proposal includes interim targets for 2016 and final targets for 2021.

“The proposed principles are voluntary and do not call for government regulation of food marketing. They are an opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers, public health advocates, the entertainment industry, academics, and other stakeholders to provide comments that will inform the working group’s final recommendations to Congress.”

“Children are strongly influenced by the foods they see advertised on television and elsewhere. Creating a food marketing environment that supports, rather than undermines, the efforts of parents to encourage healthy eating among children will have a significant impact on reducing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “These new Principles will help food and beverage companies use their creativity and resources to strengthen parents’ efforts to encourage their children to make healthy choices.”

RBR-TVBR observation: This is one of those zombie issue categories in Washington. Protecting children hungry for snacks from corporations hungry for profits is always a good way to score some points with the public. All it takes is a quick glance at two of the benchmark target dates in this proposal: 2016 and 2021 – to deduce that in fact, this issue isn’t ever going to go away.