The Federal Trade Commission today asked food manufacturers and their partners to use their vast marketing resources to encourage healthy eating habits for children. At the same time, child-nutrition advocates noted the continuing lack of national nutrition standards for children and an ongoing “disconnect” between food companies’ pledges and their ads selling heavily surgared food to kids.
The commission’s report, issued today, The commission issued a report today that 44 major food and beverage companies spent $1.6 billion marketing food to children.
Since food companies often use movies in their product promotions, FTC consumer protection bureau director Lydia Parnes quoted the line from “Spiderman 2”: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Parnes asked food producers to join over a dozen food manufacturers who are working with the Council of Better Business Bureaus to self-regulate their advertising toward healthier eating habits. Nestle recently became the 14th company to join that group.
Margo Wootan, nutrition director with the Center for Science int the Public Interest said the food companies continue to sell surgrary foods.
“What strikes me is the disconnect between the food industry’s talking points and what we actually see on television during children’s programming,” said Wootan. The FTC report “shows that there is a lot of marketing aimed at children, and let’s be perfectly clear it was not spent urging kids to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
“The food industry spent a billion and a half dollars urging children to eat fast food, sugary cereals, soft drinks, and other unhealthy foods,” she added.
In its report, the FTC looked at the advertising practices of 44 companies and found that they often use a wide spectrum of media to convey their advertisements to children.
Television advertising accounted for 46 percent of the total, or $745 million. Other advertising methods included packaging (12 percent), in-school promotions (11 percent), and toy premiums (4 percent).
“Toys that come with kids meals were not included in that total because they come with a purchase,” said FTC advertising practices division director Mary Engle. “If you include them, the advertising cost jumps to $427 million, which is second only to television.”
Carbonated beverages, fast food and cereal are the most commonly advertised foods to children, with a combined total of 63 percent of the overall advertising budget.
“Many marketing campaigns are fully integrated,” Engle said. “A child will see an ad on television and then a promotional display at the grocery store. He will punch in a code on the website and send an e-card to a friend.”
Other forms of food advertising include word-of-mouth, celebrity endorsements, athletic sponsorships and product placement on TV and in movies.
In addition to joining the companies working with the CBBB, Parnes recommended:
– Food manufacturers expand their nutritional standards to the full spectrum of their advertising campaigns;
– Food manufacturers stop advertising low-nutrition foods in schools, and
– Entertainment companies consider their own self-regulatory initiative
“We would like the companies to use their enormous resources and creative talent to improve the nutritional quality of food marketed to children,” Parnes said.
Wootan with the Center for Public Interest derided the tepid voluntary response of food companies. “Companies are starting to address marketing to children, but if they don’t step up their efforts,” she said, “Congress and the next administration will need to do it for them.”