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Food manufacturers received a range of grades — from good to failing — from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which recently issued a report card rating 128 food and entertainment companies’ policies on food marketing to children. Three-quarters of the companies rated got F’s for having insufficient policies or none at all.
The highest grade, a B-plus, went to Mars, Inc., which has a policy that excludes marketing to children under the age of 12 and encompasses most of the key marketing tactics employed to reach kids. Procter & Gamble earned a B for its efforts, while six other CPG companies got a B-minus, 17 drew a C, and seven a D. Ninety-five of all of the companies rated received an F.
Among those that received a failing grade was candy company Topps, which CSPI noted has engaged popular youth-oriented celebrities such as the Jonas Brothers and the Clique Girlz singing groups to promote Baby Bottle Pop, a powdered candy sold in a miniature baby bottle.
“Despite the industry’s self-regulatory system, the vast majority of food and entertainment companies have no protections in place for children,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “If companies were marketing bananas and broccoli, we wouldn’t be concerned. But instead, most of the marketing is for sugary cereals, fast food, snack foods and candy. And this junk food marketing is a major contributor to childhood obesity.”
In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus rolled out a self-regulatory program, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. Although 16 major food and restaurant companies, accounting for about 80 percent of television food advertising expenditures, have adopted the program and pledged not to market foods to kids under 12 that don’t meet companies’ individual nutritional standards, those standards still allow children to be exposed to a significant amount of junk-food advertising, according to CSPI, citing its recent analysis of advertising on Nickelodeon that found 80 percent of food ads on the children’s network were for junk food.
Companies currently spend about $2 billion each year marketing foods and beverages to children, according to the Washington-based nonprofit health advocacy group focused on nutrition, food safety and pro-health alcohol policies.
In the near future, the Federal Trade Commission, in tandem with other federal agencies, is expected to propose a set of voluntary nutrition criteria and other standards for foods marketed to children that should be finalized in July.
“If food, toy and media companies fail to adopt those voluntary standards, they will be clanging the death knell for their self-regulatory initiative and inviting strong government involvement in food marketing aimed at kids,” cautioned Wootan.
In response to CSPI’s findings, Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) VP of federal affairs Scott Faber emphasized the strides made against obesity by the food industry. “Obesity is one of the nation’s most serious public health challenges, and our industry has significantly changed the way we develop and market our products to provide more healthy choices and to help consumers build a healthy diet,” noted Faber. “The food and beverage industry has already changed the recipes of more than 10,000 products to reduce calories, sugar, sodium and fat. We are working with experts at FDA and USDA to design new labels that make information about calories and nutrition facts clearer for busy parents. And we have changed the way we advertise our products during children’s programming. Because our industry has applied nutrition standards to our advertising seen during children’s programming, two-thirds of advertisements viewed on children’s programming now feature healthy food and active lifestyles.”
According to a Georgetown Economic Services (GES) study noted by Washington-based GMA, between 2004 and 2008, advertisements for food, beverages and restaurants during children’s programming declined 31 percent; ads for snacks fell 60 percent; and ads for cookies plunged 82 percent, while commercials for soups, fruits and vegetables rose dramatically.
“Everyone has a role to play, including government, if we are going to meet first lady Michelle Obama’s goal of ending childhood obesity within a generation,” added Faber.
The full CSPI report card can be viewed at http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/marketingreportcard.pdf.