Junk Food Ads to Kids Limited – Maybe

Multiple news stories dated on July 18-19, 2007 report on a voluntary pledge by eleven of the biggest food and drink companies to limit junk food advertisements geared toward children. The voluntary agreement or pledge was announced by the US Federal Trade Commission on July 18, 2007. An article on this by the LA Times suggests that the reason for the voluntary pledge is that the food companies want to placate legislators who they fear may want to impose regulations based on the recent fervor over childhood obesity.

The article by the Washington Post notes that these companies are acting on advertising recommendations made by the Federal Trade Commission last year. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Deborah Majoras stated, “Responsible, industry-generated action and effective self-regulation are critical to addressing the national problem of childhood obesity. The FTC plans to monitor industry efforts closely, and we expect to see real improvements.”

The companies that plan to either comply, or are already in compliance include McDonald’s, Campbell Soup, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and General Mills. Margot Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the centre for Science in the Public Interest also notes in the LA Times story that the companies pledges loosely follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines. She notes that some foods such as Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs will not fall within the guidelines and can still continue to be advertised to children. She notes, “This gets rid of marketing of the very worst junk food, but it doesn’t mean that only truly healthy foods are going to be marketed to kids.”

Susan Linn, a Harvard professor and co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood argues in the LA Times article that the self-regulated pledges are not good enough. She states, “We shouldn’t be counting on the food industry to safeguard public health. Corporations are bound by law to increase shareholder profits, not to promote the well-being of children.” In an article in the NY Times she adds, “This is great public relations for the companies, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. It is going to be impossible to monitor if the companies are actually doing what they say.”

FTC Chairman Deborah Majoras, called the various pledges “a significant step” in the New York Times and urged more food makers to join the effort. She concluded, “While changes in food marketing alone will not solve the nation’s childhood obesity problem, these actions will help make a healthy choice the easy choice.”