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WASHINGTON -- The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services yesterday released a report recommending concrete steps that industry can take to change their marketing and other practices to make progress against childhood obesity. The Grocery Manufacturers of America praised the guidelines, but noted that many food companies are already taking steps in the right direction.
The FTC/HHS report is a product of last summer's workshop, which provided a forum for industry, consumer, academic, and government stakeholders to examine the role of the private sector in addressing rising childhood obesity rates in the United States.
"Responsible, industry-generated action and effective self-regulation are critical to addressing the national problem of childhood obesity," said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras in a statement. "The FTC plans to monitor industry efforts closely, and we expect to see real improvements."
"Businesses need to work with mothers, fathers, and children to bring America's epidemic of childhood overweight under control," added HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. "Families can help children to be physically active and to eat right, and business can encourage children to eat nutritious foods in proper portions."
The FTC and HHS offered recommendations for action in the report, and noted that both agencies plan to monitor closely progress on these recommendations.
The agencies recommended that food companies:
-- Intensify their efforts to create new products and reformulate existing products to make them lower in calories, more nutritious, more appealing to children, and more convenient to prepare and eat;
-- Help consumers control portion sizes and calories through smaller portions, single-serving packages, and other packaging cues;
-- Explore labeling initiatives to identify lower-calorie, nutritious foods clearly and in a manner that does not mislead consumers;
-- Review and revise their marketing practices with the goal of improving the overall nutritional profile of the foods marketed to children, for example, by adopting minimum nutritional standards for the foods they market to children, or by otherwise shifting emphasis to lower-calorie, more nutritious products;
-- Generally explore ways to improve efforts to educate consumers about nutrition and fitness, with simple and effective messages; and
-- Review and revise their policies to improve the overall nutritional profile of the products they market and sell in schools.
In focusing on racial and ethnic populations in which childhood obesity is more prevalent, the agencies recommended that food companies create promotions that are tailored to these communities and tailor their outreach efforts to promote better nutrition and fitness to these populations.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) responded with a statement from GMA president and c.e.o. C. Manly Molpus. "We welcome this report by the FTC and HHS that recognizes the positive role that responsible marketing can play in improving children's diets and activity, and in promoting healthy lifestyles," he said.
"GMA and its member companies will carefully consider all of the recommendations put forth in the FTC/HHS report. While many companies are already engaged in a variety of initiatives, we welcome the agencies' suggestions regarding other ways in which we might be able to have positive impact on the health of all consumers, especially children," continued Molpus.
The agencies also made recommendations for media and entertainment companies that market to children.
The agencies said they will closely monitor industry progress in implementing the recommendations set forth in the report, and in the future one or both of the agencies will issue a follow-up report assessing the progress that industry has made. In addition to this follow-up report, the FTC also is conducting a study on the nature and extent of food marketing techniques directed at children and adolescents. Information on good nutrition for kids can be found on the HHS Web site at http://www.hhs.gov/kids.
Copies of the report are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.