Harkin gears up to table food advertising to kids bill

Related tags Children Nutrition

Democrat Tom Harkin, senator for Iowa and health and nutrition
advocate, announced at a press conference earlier this week that he
will propose a bill enabling the FTC to regulate food advertising
to children, Philippa Nuttall reports.

"The Harkin bill would restore the FTC's power to regulate advertising for children - taken away during the cavity epidemic of the 1980s to save food companies from suffering restrications - but it would be up to the FTC to decide how and what to regulate,"​ Allison Dobson, Harkin's spokeswoman, explained to FoodNavigatorUSA.com.

She added that Harkin also plans to table a second bill, which would allow the secretary of agriculture to prohibit junk food advertising in schools.

Senator Harkin is currently looking for co-sponsors for the legislation that he will propose after the recess in two weeks time.

"We feel that it is especially important to ban advertising to children under the age of eight because research by psychologists has shown that children under this age do not understand adverts,"​ said Dobson.

However, Harkin and his team believe that obesity is now such a problem in the US - with worrying reports like that published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggesting that obesity may start to reduce life-expectancy in the US - that it could be desirable to ban advertising to children under the age of 18.

"This is a public health crisis and therefore the government should get involved,"​ said Dobson.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has already drawn up guidelines suggesting that only "products that may not be nutritionally ideal but that provide some positive nutritional benefit and that could help children meet the dietary guidelines"​ should be advertised to children.

"Companies should not conduct general brand marketing aimed at children for brands under which more than half of the products are of poor nutritional quality,"​ believes the organization.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the CSPI, added: "Ideally the food manufacturers should limit their advertising, but they can't control themselves. Therefore, it will fall to government to come up with some rules"​.

The GMA, on the other hand, naturally takes a less rigid approach, affirming that steps are already in place to make sure children see only the right sort of advertising and thinks it is nonsense to suggest children upto the age of 18 need to be protected from food advertising.

"We do not support a ban on advertising food products. A ban would not be the right solution,"​ spokesperson Stephanie Childs told FoodNavigatorUSA.com. Instead, she said that the organization would be looking at what is working in then present system and building on that.

Childs added that the GMA was waiting to see the results of a study being carried out by the IOM looking at how food marketing impacts children.

"The science on obesity is not conculsive. We are waiting for the IOM study to look at the science and the power of advertising,"​ said Childs.

Moreover, she believes that most food companies practise responsible advertising that complies with the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), meaning that, for example, if a snack is being advertised the "right size serving is shown in the right context"​.

Dobson said that Harkin and the team was "looking forward"​ to the results of the study, but was certain that it would confirm what they already believe, namely the link between advertising to children and obesity.

"It will be very interesting and we are anxious to see the results. It will help us in making our case, but this is not the only thing that is happening, we have a growing body of evidence saying that advertising to children is a serious problem."

However, Dobson was keen to emphasize that Harkin does not think that banning advertising to children is the be-all and end-all.

"We also have to encourage more physical education and the consumption of more fruit and veg."

Harkin and his colleagues are under no illusions as to the power of the food industry, but Dobson believes that "there is always a tippping point"​, as there was with the tobacco industry where it is time to take action.

"Obesity is adding to rising healthcare costs, reducing lifespans and parents have had enough,"​ she said.

Dobson admitted that there are ongoing improvements in the food industry, but feels that right now they are "small steps"​.

"If they had happened 10 years ago they might have brought us somewhere,"​ she said, adding that more drastic action is needed.

"It is not in a company's economic interest to take a step forward because another one will just step in and take its place,"​ said Dobson, affirming the need for new legislation.

The GMA, however, believes that the food industry is taking huge steps forward.

"GMA members have introduced thousands of new and reformulated products that are lower in saturated and trans fats, sodium and sugar,"​ said Manly Molpus, CEO of the GMA.

Related topics Ingredients

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