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Food and ad industry warned to stop targeting children

06/04/2005 - Democrat Senator Tom Harkin yesterday sent a strong message to 
the food industry, saying that it must move swiftly to stop the advertising 
aimed at children that was creating a "botched" generation.

His speech was given at a joint conference of the American Advertising 
Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the 
Association of National Advertisers.

Harkin made it clear to the advertisers that if they did nothing to reduce 
or even stop advertising to children, then the only way forward would be to 
instigate legislation.

“When it comes to the advertising and marketing of food to children, it is 
still my hope that real restraint will come from within your 
industry...obviating the need for further federal regulation," he said.

It is well documented that America is in the grip of an obesity crisis, 
Harkin said that 15 percent of American children and teenagers are obese, 
"a higher rate than in any other industrialized country". However, he said 
that there was added urgency to do something with new evidence that today’s 
young generation could be the first to suffer a shorter lifespan than the 
one that preceded it.

“The alarms are going off, one after another. Yet, we keep hitting the 
snooze button."

He said that inactivity and poor nutrition were together contributing to 
the obesity crisis, but that children were consuming more calories and more 
foods high in sugar, fat, and salt because they taste good, are available 
everywhere and are "being aggressively advertised and marketed".

He added : “Corporate America...spends $12 billion [on advertising aimed at 
children] because that advertising works brilliantly because it persuades 
children to demand – to the point of throwing temper tantrums, if necessary 
– a regular diet of candy, cookies, sugary cereal, sodas, and all manner of 
junk food".

Children under the age of eight are unable to tell the difference between a 
TV program and a commercial and parents should not have to sit there 
watching children’s shows to check whether there are any offending ads, 
said Harkin.

“Not even schools are safe havens anymore. There is Channel One, with ads 
for candy bars and sugary sodas. There are giant Coke machines that double 
as billboards, right in the school hallway or cafeteria."

He cited a Wall Street Journal poll from February that had found that 68 
percent of American adults believe that advertising to kids is a major 
contributor to the rising tide of obesity in children and that a clear 
majority said government should do more to regulate food ads directed at 

Stephanie Childs from the Grocery Manufacturers of America recently told that she believed that most food companies practised 
responsible advertising that complies with the Children’s Advertising 
Review Unit (CARU), meaning that, for example, if a snack is being 
advertised the "right size serving is shown in the right context".

Harkin admitted that the "CARU has done some good things" and was at least 
an acknowledgement by the advertising industry that irresponsible food 
marketing to children is a very real problem, but he did not think that it 
went far enough.

"CARU is not cutting it. It has no legal authority – and it has no teeth."

Harkin wants the advertising industry to sit down with the food and 
broadcasting companies to "hammer out tough, rigorous, age-appropriate 
standards to govern the marketing of junk food to children. And create an 
enforcement body that has independence and teeth."

The senator had already announced last month that he planned to propose a 
bill enabling the FTC to regulate food advertising to children.

"The Harkin bill would restore the FTC’s power to regulate advertising for 
children - taken away during the cavity epidemic of the 1980s to save food 
companies from suffering restrications - but it would be up to the FTC to 
decide how and what to regulate," Allison Dobson, Harkin's spokeswoman, 
explained to

She added at the time that Harkin also planned to table a second bill, 
which would allow the secretary of agriculture to prohibit junk food 
advertising in schools.

The ban on food advertising to children is a stance supported by the Center 
for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that has already drawn up 
guidelines suggesting that only "products that may not be nutritionally 
ideal but that provide some positive nutritional benefit and that could 
help children meet the dietary guidelines" should be advertised to children.

"Companies should not conduct general brand marketing aimed at children for 
brands under which more than half of the products are of poor nutritional 
quality," believes the organization.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the CSPI, added: "Ideally the food 
manufacturers should limit their advertising, but they can’t control 
themselves. Therefore, it will fall to government to come up with some rules".

The GMA, on the other hand, naturally takes a less rigid approach, 
affirming that steps are already in place to make sure children see only 
the right sort of advertising and thinks it is nonsense to suggest children 
upto the age of 18 need to be protected from food advertising.

"We do not support a ban on advertising food products. A ban would not be 
the right solution," said Childs. Instead, she said that the organization 
would be looking at what is working in then present system and building on 

Dobson admitted that there were ongoing improvements in the food industry, 
but felt they were "small steps". "If they had happened 10 years ago they 
might have brought us somewhere," she said, adding that more drastic action 
is needed.

The GMA, however, believes that the food industry is taking huge steps 
forward. "GMA members have introduced thousands of new and reformulated 
products that are lower in saturated and trans fats, sodium and sugar," 
said Manly Molpus, CEO of the GMA.
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Food and ad industry warned to stop targeting children

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