Watchdog Group: Reduce Junk Food Ads For Kids
Advocates Say Junk Food Ads Make Obesity Epidemic Worse
Jan. 6, 2005 -- A watchdog group called on food and beverage makers Thursday
to scale back advertising of junk food to children, warning that relentless
marketing is contributing to rising rates of obesity among young people.
The report calls on food manufacturers, media companies, schools, and others
to limit child-targeted marketing to foods that meet criteria for good
nutrition. It also asks companies to scale back the use of marketing techniques
pairing unhealthy food with popular cartoon characters, movies, and other
images that children enjoy but critics say undermine the ability of parents to
monitor what kids eat.
Ideally, only healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain
products would be marketed to kids, writes the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, in a news release.
"If companies want to put [Finding] Nemo toys in bags
of baby carrots, we're all for it. But that's not what's happening," says
Margo G. Wootan, who authored the guidelines for the CSPI.
Instead, the group displayed dozens of food products identifiable not only
by their high-fat or sugar contents, but also by bright packaging, movie
tie-ins, or cartoon character endorsement on boxes. "What we're really
asking is that marketers act responsibly, and not urge kids to eat foods that
could harm their health," says Wootan.
Advocates have long called for curbs on advertising aimed at minors,
complaining that companies target youngsters who spend more time than ever
absorbing media messages.
Federal lawmakers and regulators have balked at efforts to curb food
industry advertising, usually citing free speech concerns. Wootan says that
Thursday's guidelines are a call for companies to voluntarily change their
Companies should now cease targeting children for advertising about foods
high in fat, sugar, or sodium or those that are delivered in unreasonably large
portion sizes, the guidelines state. They also call on media companies and
schools to refuse to market foods and drinks that do not meet basic nutritional
standards for kids.
The CSPI suggests that companies market:
- Drinks that contain at least 50% fruit juice and no added caloric
- Water and seltzer without added caloric sweeteners
- Low-fat and fat-free milk, including flavored milks
They also say marketers should offer foods that provide basic nutrients and
- Less than 30% of total calories from fat (excluding fat from nuts, seeds,
and peanut or other nut butters)
- Less than 10% of calories from saturated plus hydrogenated fat
- Less than 25% of calories from added sugars
- No more than 150 milligrams of sodium per serving of snack items; no more
than 480 milligrams per serving for soups, pastas, meats, and main dishes; and
no more than 600 milligrams for meals
More than 15% of children aged 6 to 19 qualify as obese. This percentage has
more than doubled over the last two decades. Many more are identified as
overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Approximately 19 million American children over age 6 are now obese or
overweight, putting them at higher risk for developing diabetes, heart disease,
and a variety of other illnesses.
An Institute of Medicine report issued in September called for drastic
action against rising childhood obesity. Experts stated then that food industry
efforts at self-regulation of child-directed advertising were ineffective and
should be rethought.