Marketing to kids -- pressure mounts

May 2, 2011

A working group of federal agencies has proposed strict, but voluntary, guidelines for the marketing of F&B products to children.

A working group of federal agencies has proposed strict, but voluntary, guidelines for the marketing of F&B products to children. Under the proposal (unveiled April 28), children would be encouraged, through advertising and marketing to select foods that make a meaningful contribution to a healthy diet and contain limited amounts of ingredients that may adversely affect health or weight - more limiting proposals than those undertaken so far by food companies, reports Food Business News.

The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketing to Children (I.W.G.), formed as part of the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, includes representatives from the FDA, the CDC, the USDA and the Federal Trade Commission, proposal, which would broaden the media (television. magazines, the Internet and social media) suggests all food products in categories most heavily marketed to children and teens younger than 18 should meet two basic criteria -- being healthful and lacking ingredients that are unhealthful or fattening. Included categories include cereals, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked foods, carbonated beverages, fruit juice and non carbonated beverages, prepared foods and meals, frozen and chilled desserts and restaurant foods.

To qualify as a food making a "meaningful contribution to a healthful diet," contributions from at least one of the following food groups would need to be made -- fruit, vegetable, whole grain, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra lean meat or poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, and beans.

With a few exceptions (saturated fat and sodium naturally occurring in low-fat milk), foods marketed to children would need to meet the following rules: saturated fat: 1 gram or less per RACC (reference amount customarily served) and 15 percent or less of calories; trans fat: zero grams per RACC; added sugars: No more than 13 grams per RACC; sodium: No more than 210 mg per serving; sodium content of bread varies widely, with a significant number of brands falling on either side of the 210 mg level. Under the proposal, the sodium level would need to be reduced further, to 140 mg, by 2021. Additionally, the guidelines appear not to allow even the 0.5 grams of trans fat that currently may be contained within a product while still calling the food trans fat free.

Achieving the changes will not be easy, the I.W.G. said, setting a deadline of 2016 as a deadline to meet the guidelines. Beyond limiting the marketing of certain foods, the I.W.G. said it hoped new products and reformulations would result from the plan.

The long-awaited guidelines, received an immediate rebuke from the ad industry, which called the initiative "overly restrictive" and based on "limited and outdated information," reports Ad Age  "If companies were to comply with these proposals, the restrictions are sufficiently onerous that they would basically block a substantial amount of advertising," Dan Jaffe, exec VP-government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, told Ad Age.

Ironically, the average number of food and beverage ads that kids ages 2 to 11 viewed on children's programming fell by 50 percent between 2004 and 2010, according to research conducted by the Georgetown Economic Service, on behalf of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Association of National Advertisers, reports Supermarket News.

During the six-year period ads for snack bars fell by nearly 100 percent, cookies by 99 percent, soft drinks by 96 percent and frozen and refrigerated pizza by 95 percent. Many of the changes can be attributed to the 2006 launch of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, whereby 17 food and beverage companies voluntarily opted to apply science-based nutrition standards to marketing viewed by children, according to GMA.

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