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U.S. Food Companies Limit Junk Food Ads to Kids Under 12

Posted Dec 18 2008 7:35pm

Some of the nation’s biggest food and beverage companies, including the Coca-Cola Co., General Mills Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc., have agreed to stop advertising certain brands of cereals, candy bars, drinks and other foods on TV shows aimed at children under 12, a development reported by New York Times, Reuters (Brooks Barnes), the Associated Press (Vinnee Tong), Los Angeles Times (Alana Semuels), etc.

At first blush, you may be inclined to heartily applaud this voluntary move by the above corporations, who are joined by The Hershey Co.; PepsiCo Inc. (maker of Frito-Lay and Quaker Foods and seller of Pepsi and Gatorade drinks); Cadbury Adams USA LLC; Campbell Soup Co.; Kraft Foods Inc.; Mars Inc., McDonald's USA;. Unilever (maker of SlimFast and Country Crock), and Masterfoods USA (makers of Snickers, M&Ms and Skittles).

But.. and here's the rub... you need to know that these companies just happened to announce their new pledges at a Federal Trade Commission forum Wednesday.

That's right: The companies were scrambling "to placate legislators" (as Alana Semuels so aptly puts it in the Los Angeles Times ), because lawmakers are considering more aggressive food marketing crackdowns to stem childhood obesity.

So let's face it: These moves are a direct response to avoid governmental regulation.

Naturally, I welcome these changes to stop pushing foods to kids that don't meet certain nutritional guidelines. But it's simply difficult to believe that these voluntary pledges came about because the corporations genuinely care about the health of our nation's children.

In fact, critics -- including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and yours truly -- claim that such self-regulated pledges simply don't go far enough.

What's more, they argue, "advertising guidelines without an industrywide standard or method of enforcement won't do much good," as Semuels points out in the Los Angeles Times.

Margot Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, had another valid point.

"This gets rid of marketing of the very worst junk food," she told the L.A. Times, "but it doesn't mean that only truly healthy foods are going to be marketed to kids."

Incidentally, these announcements come in the wake of previous commitments from the Kellogg Co. last month. As you may recall, in mid-June, I first told you about the "historic agreeement" (which I initially wrote about enthusiastically here and then again here, but not as excitedly ), by which the Kellogg Co., was able to avoid litigation by the Center for Science in the Public Interest by agreeing to stop advertising sugary cereals and other products containing more than 12 grams (3 tsp.) of sugar per serving to children under 12. (I also talk about this threatened lawsuit in my book SUGAR SHOCK!. By the way, my publisher Berkley Books, part of the Penguin Group, will update this soon but not in time for the next reprinting, which is happening shortly.)

Anyhow, once you start looking at the actual specifics of these just-announced efforts at self-regulation -- which you can find here -- you begin to get a bit cynical, if not skeptical.

In fact, Brooks Barnes of The New York Times puts it well, noting that these corporate efforts "will probably amount to a ripple rather than a sea change in terms of what foods children see pitched on their favorite television shows and Web sites."

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