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Food Industry Whines About FTC’s New Marketing Guidelines

If they follow the FTC's guidelines, food companies will have to make healthier food if they want to continue advertising to children.

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Photo: JD'na (flickr)

Advertisers say that the new principles are too restrictive, but advocates argue they are vital to support healthier eating among children.

Healthier Ads = Healthier Kids?

An inter-agency work group headed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released new guidelines that would only allow healthy food to be advertised to children.

The FTC, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Department of Agriculture have released a jointly prepared set of principles that will be reviewed, commented on, and implemented in 2016. The principles want to stop advertising unhealthy foods to children in an effort to fight the childhood obesity crisis.

“Children are strongly influenced by the foods they see advertised on television and elsewhere,” says Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from Health and Human Services. “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.”

According to the FTC’s report, childhood obesity is the nation’s most serious health threat and parents’ number one health concern, even ahead of their child smoking or abusing drugs.

Healthier Principles In Advertising

Under the new guidelines, food companies would only be able to advertise foods that are made of at least one of the following components: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free of low-fat milk, fish, extra lean meat or poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, and beans.

Additionally, they are encouraged to not advertise foods with more than 1 g of saturated fat, 0 g trans fats, 13 g added sugars, or 210 mg of sodium. These ingredients must be “meaningful contribution(s) to a healthful diet.”

Additionally, the FTC increased the age of children from 12 to 17 to protect teenagers from advertisers as well.

Food Companies Are Peeved

The food companies and advertising industries are angry. “If companies were to comply with these proposals, the restrictions are sufficiently onerous that they would basically block a substantial amount of advertising,” says Dan Jaffe, Executive VP-Government Relations for the Association of National Advertisers.

Of course, that is exactly the goal of the FTC’s recommendations.

The food products that are marketed to children, such as sweet cereals, fast food chain meals directed at children, and sweetened drinks, do not meet the above list of requiremets that make them healthy for children. The FTC says that if food companies cannot find a way to make healthy children’s food, then they will need to stop marketing to children.

Too Lenient?

The administration wants food companies to adopt these policies in the next five years but without any sort of regulation or enforcement. It is unclear if any of the companies will actually follow suit. There is a lot of money to be made marketing to children. A similar proposal was introduced last year, but never went into effect when it was supposed to.

Overall, health advocates praise the government’s work, especially the way it includes restrictions on paper, online, and electronic marketing. However, some argue that there are too many loopholes and that the restrictions are not tight enough.

Marion Nestle simply states: “Can’t we do any better? Of course, given my druthers, food companies would not be allowed to market directly to children at all.”

Read More:

  • Interagency Working Group Seeks Input on Proposed Voluntary Principles for Marketing Food to Children (The Federal Trade Commission)
  • Advertisers Rebuke Obama Administration’s Proposed Rule on Marketing Food to Kids (Advertising Age)
  • At last FTC releases principles of food marketing to kids (Food Politics)
Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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