Companies & Ad Industry Seeks to Step Up Self-Regulation to Combat Obesity

A group representing the ad industry and advertisers — such as companies that make sugary, fatty foods that we see TV spots about in profussion — announced that it will review its 30-year-old-plus guidelines and how companies should promote their products to kids, reported.

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBB) and the ad industry are, of course, responding to the growing alarm about how irresponsible food ads are contributing to our skyrocking obesity crisis. They’re also being cornered by a swarm of criticism from consumer groups and health-conscious physicians, etc.

The ad groups also need to address the fact that a recent U.S. survey (which I wrote about her previously) found that more three quarters of foods being advertised are both nutritionally-deficient and high in calories.

Indeed, high-sugary, nutrient-poor food items such as candies, sweets and soft drinks now dominate TV advertising aimed at children between the ages of six to 11, found Kristen Harrison, a speech communication professor at the University of Illinois.

More specificially, "convenience/fast foods and sweets comprised 83% of advertised foods," according to Harrison’s study, "Nutritional Content of Foods Advertised During the Television Programs Children Watch the Most," which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health.

"Snacktime eating was depicted more often than breakfast, lunch, and dinner combined," the research shows. "Advertised foods exceed RDVs of fat, saturated fat, and sodium, yet fail to provide RDVs of fiber and certain vitamins and minerals."

According to its press announcement, CARU will convene the children’s ad industry to thoroughly review CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children’s Advertising, examining:

  • Interactive online games
  • Paid product placement in children’s TV
  • Appropriate use of third-party licensed characters (you know, popular characters who push sugary foods)

Forgive my cynicism, but the groups that will reportedly oversee this self policing respris none other than just about every advertising group you can think of:

The National Advertising Review Council (NARC) — which will have to approve the CARU recommendations — is an alliance of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), the American Advertising Federation (AAF) and the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB).

Meanwhile, NARC, which was founded in 1971, establishes policies and procedures for the National Advertising Division (NAD), CARU and the National Advertising Review Board (NARB).

And the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) founded in 1974, allegedly (according to its website) "promotes responsible children’s advertising advertising as part of a strategic alliance with the major advertising trade associations through the National Advertising Review Council (comprising the AAAA, the AAF, the ANA and the CBBB).

But let’s follow the money here. "NAD and CARU," the CARU press release tells us, "are the investigative arms of the advertising industry’s voluntary self-regulation program."

What’s more, this "unique, self-regulatory system is funded entirely by the business community." In fact, "CARU is financed by the children’s advertising industry, while NAD/NARC/NARB’s sole source of funding is derived from membership fees paid to the CBBB."

What I’d like to know is this:

  • Why would CARU wait more than 30 years to review its Guidelines?
  • How can they expect to be anywhere near unbiased if the people funding the guidelines and self regulating them are the ones who create the ads?
  • If these companies and ad industry really means mean business about changing their guidelines, then why not consult with obesity experts, college professors in advertising and renowned consumer groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Commercial Alert?

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