A working group made up of officials from several federal regulatory agencies Tuesday proposed restricting marketing of foods and beverages that contain significant amounts of sugar, sodium and saturated fat, in response to concerns about childhood obesity.
Food marketing to children should be limited to foods that provide a "meaningful contribution to a healthful diet," the proposals say.
The recommendations of the group, which was created by Congress, reflect concerns that current marketing practices are influencing children's eating habits.
Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and public health advocates have expressed concern that the food industry isn't doing enough to limit the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.
David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau, stressed that the proposals aren't regulations and aren't binding.
Still, he said companies should pay attention because if they don't take the lead on changing food marketing practices, "Congress may decide for all of us."
The recommendations will be sent to Congress next year, after a public comment period.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents makers of packaged foods, said its members have voluntarily reduced the number of advertisements aimed at children while increasingly shifting the advertising aimed at them to more healthful products.
"GMA and its members have a longstanding commitment to help arrest and reverse obesity trends around the world," Mary Sophos, GMA's senior vice president and chief government affairs officer, said in a statement. "Our efforts are having an impact and we will continue to do our part."
The foods and beverages that could be affected if the proposed marketing restrictions became law include most sodas, candies, cookies, cereals and some types of yogurt, said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Dan Jaffe, a government relations official from the Association of National Advertisers, said the standards, if adopted, would be complicated to follow. The proposals "will affect a lot of our members and will have a broad impact on the advertising community," he said.
The group that made the recommendations includes officials from the FTC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Before the recommendations were announced, Mr. Leibowitz, the FTC chairman, praised the more than 16 companies, including McDonald's Corp., Burger King Holdings Inc. and General Mills Inc., that have pledged to shift food ads aimed at children to include healthier foods.
He criticized other companies that heavily market foods to children but haven't signed similar pledges.
Elaine Kolish, director of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative at the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said industry self-regulation is working.
"The companies have done exactly what they've pledged to do, and more. The goal post may be moving, and I recognize this," she said.
Jared A. Favole, The Wall Street Journal. December 17, 2009
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