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WASHINGTON -- A new report released yesterday by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM) here claimed food and beverage marketing aimed at kids points them to high-calorie, low-nutrient products. In the industry's defense, GMA, meanwhile, claimed its members were already doing many things to offer kids healthy choices.
The IOM recommended significant changes in industry practices to reshape children's awareness of healthy dietary choices. Manufacturers and restaurants, it said, should direct more of their resources to developing and marketing child- and youth-oriented foods, drinks, and meals that are higher in nutrients and lower in calories, fat, salt, and added sugars.
"Current food and beverage marketing practices put kids' long-term health at risk," said committee chair J. Michael McGinnis, senior scholar, Institute of Medicine. "If America's children and youth are to develop eating habits that help them avoid early onset of diet-related chronic diseases, they have to reduce their intake of high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks, fast foods, and sweetened drinks, which make up a high proportion of the products marketed to kids. And this is an 'all hands on deck' issue. Parents have a central role in the turnaround required, but so do the food, beverage, and restaurant industries."
The committee also called on the government to enhance nutritional standards, incentives, and public policies to promote the marketing of healthier foods and beverages. In addition, schools, parents, and the media are being asked to work with government and industry to pursue initiatives that support healthful diets for children and youth.
The Grocery Manufacturing Association quickly responded on behalf of its members.
Said v.p. of communications Richard Martin, "Providing a wide variety of nutritious foods and beverages, and helping parents make the right choices for their families is our industry's top priority. Because GMA members share the IOM's concerns about childhood obesity, they have already undertaken many of the committee's recommendations."
Martin cited a GMA survey that found that since 2002, 98 percent of members have improved the nutrition profile of their products. Additionally, 83 percent have improved the information they include on food labels.
This summer, on behalf of its members that support the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), GMA voluntarily put forward a series of recommendations to strengthen the self-regulation of marketing to children.
Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has been an outspoken critic of some of the food industry's practices, praised the report. "The Institute of Medicine's report on food marketing to children is a milestone that marks the beginning of the end of junk-food marketing to kids," she said. "The report sends a clear signal to food company executives and advertisers that the industry needs to completely rethink the way they do business. And lawmakers should look at the IOM report as a roadmap to help improve kids' diets and address childhood obesity."
The IOM committee said that if voluntary efforts by industry fail to change advertising policies, Congress should enact legislation to mandate changes in children's advertising on both broadcast and cable television.