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Marketing to kids in spotlight, obesity report postponed

By Lorraine Heller , 10-Jul-2007

A task force designed to examine the link between food advertising and childhood obesity has delayed the release of its formal report to take into account the new marketing measures expected to be imminently announced by major food firms.

The Joint Task Force on Childhood Obesity, a government and industry initiative set up last year, has postponed the release of its report - due out this week - to September.

 

 

 

According to Senators Sam Brownback and Tom Harkin, who formed the initiative together with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the extension will allow for further examination into the ways in which the food and beverage industry is tackling food marketing to children in order to reduce the rates of childhood obesity.

 

 

 

"The extension will allow for a more thorough examination of new initiatives that many of the food and beverage companies are coordinating, as well as a more comprehensive look at how all parties, especially media, can work together for the common good," Brownback and Harkin said in a joint statement.

 

 

 

The extension is no doubt linked to heightened pressure on industry to adjust its marketing practices after cereal giant Kellogg in June announced it would adopt global nutrition standards for the products it markets to children. The firm committed to reformulate or cease the marketing for those products that fall short of the criteria.

 

 

 

The move resulted in a flurry of praise from government and public health groups, together with an expectation for other food firms to follow in the same direction.

 

 

 

The announcement by the Joint Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity that it is postponing the release of its report is an indication that industry has taken the calls for responsible advertising to heart, and is preparing responses that would preempt the implementation of new regulations.

 

 

 

New moves could be announced as early as next week, when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are to hold a forum to examine the food industry's marketing practices to children, and to review the progress of actions taken so far to help combat childhood obesity.

 

 

 

The event, which will bring together members from industry, media, and self-regulatory groups, will also examine the steps that need to be taken next.

 

 

 

Weighing In: A Check-Up on Marketing, Self-Regulation, and Childhood Obesity follows a workshop hosted by FTC and HHS in 2005, which examined the self-regulatory initiatives already undertaken. This resulted in the agencies last year issuing a report that provided a list of recommended self-regulatory actions for companies marketing food and beverages to children.

 

 

 

Next week's forum, due to be held in Washington, DC on July 18, marks the next step in the agencies' efforts to address the growing incidence of childhood obesity. Representatives from all sectors will report on progress in implementing the recommendations from the 2006 report.

 

 

 

The heightened action surrounding the issue of marketing to children would suggest that the time has come for voluntary restrictions before these become required by law.

 

 

 

Indeed, last month FCC said it was considering a rulemaking that would place limits on the types of advertisements seen by children if the industry does not adequately respond with voluntary measures.

 

 

 

Speaking at a hearing of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, chairman Edward Markey said "there is a terrible inconsistency in policies that require broadcasters to air three hours of educationally nutritious programming for kids, and then to have this programming and other children's shows surrounded by a barrage of junk food ads".

 

 

"As the House Sponsor of the Children's Television Act, I believe that parents and children deserve better. And that act already grants the FCC authority to address many of these issues if the industry does not respond to this problem on its own swiftly and concretely."

 

 

Markey said that in the absence of a proper response from industry, he is prepared to "press the FCC to put on the books rules that will protect the children of our country from these unhealthy messages".

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