New regs could change way food industry markets to children

“The federal government proposed sweeping new guidelines on Thursday that could push the food industry to overhaul how it advertises cereal, soda pop, snacks, restaurant meals and other foods to children,” The New York Times‘ William Neuman reports.

The guidelines, which were released by the Federal Trade Commission, target TV commercials, print ads, websites, product placement in movies, kids meals at fast food restaurants (Getty Images photo by David Paul Morris) and online games that serve to promote a product. “The inclusion of digital media, such as product-based games, represents one of the government’s strongest efforts so far to address the extension of children’s advertising into the online world,” Neuman reports.
“Our proposal really covers all forms of marketing to kids, and the product packaging and the images and themes on the cereal boxes have tremendous appeal to kids,” said Michelle K. Rush, a trade commission attorney. “The goal is to encourage children to eat more healthy foods because obesity is a huge health crisis.”
Advertised food would have to be made of healthy ingredients, such as whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, or skim or 1 percent milk. They could not have high amounts of sugar, trans fats, salt or saturated fat. Cereals would only be able to have 8 grams of sugar per serving — they now often contain 12 grams — and salt would be limited to 450 milligrams per serving in packaged foods. A 15-ounce can of Chef Boyardee beef ravioli now has 750 milligrams.
Following the guidelines will be voluntary, but there will be pressure for companies to adopt them, Neuman reports. Those that elect to do so will have five to 10 years to revamp their products and marketing strategy.
A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found that in 1997 to 2002 the average child saw about 4,000 television commercials advertising food each year. During Saturday morning cartoons, kids saw a food ad about every five minutes. Of that food advertised, about 95 percent of it was of poor nutritional value. In 2006, food companies spent almost $2.3 billion in children’s advertising, the Federal Trade Commission found.
In response to the new guidelines, the food industry said it has “already taken significant steps to improve recipes and change the way it advertises to children,” Neuman reports. (Read more)
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