FTC Praises Big Food for Changing Marketing Tactics Aimed at Kids, But Do They Deserve It?

From Jennifer Moore

Yikes! A total of 44 major food and beverage companies spent a whopping $1.6 billion dollars in 2006 marketing their products to kids 17 and under, according to a report released by the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC says in a press release that "although there is room for improvement, the food and beverage industries have made significant progress" in marketing more responsibly to children since 2005 when the FTC and the Department of Health and Human Services convened the Workshop on Marketing, Self-Regulation & Childhood Obesity to address the issue.

Oh, really? I’m not so sure about that.

For starters, the food makers promised to either stop targeting ads at kids or to advertise only "better-for-you products" to them.

One product that apparently meets these guidelines, devised by the food corporations themselves, is Kellogg’s Apple Jacks cereal, which was specifically reformulated so that it’s "better for you" (notice that they didn’t say "good for you"), according to Stephanie Clifford of The New York Times.

But a look at Kellogg’s website shows that Apple Jacks contains 12 grams of sugar per serving.

In fact, the very first ingredient listed on the Apple Jacks package is sugar. If that’s an example of something that’s supposedly better for kids, I shudder to think what was worse.

Big Food also issued its own report and press release congratulating themselves on meeting its own guidelines.

The food makers’ report notes that companies used varying criteria to determine the sugar content of "better for you" food, such as food that has no more than 12 grams of sugar per serving (which doesn’t count sugars found naturally in fruits, vegetables, or dairy).

So, by my calculations, Kellogg’s did the absolute least they could, using their own lax standards, to make their Apple Jacks less unhealthy.

The companies also decided for themselves what exactly advertising aimed at children means, so the standards vary.

Interesting. Don’t you think Coca-Cola was well aware that kids watch shows that aren’t primarily aimed at them such as "American Idol," which appeals to some 2 million youngsters, according to Clifford’s New York Times article?

The FTC and Big Food will have to forgive me for being none too impressed with this so-called progress.

I’m not the only one who isn’t bowled over. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood issued its own press release on the FTC’s report, which concludes this way:

"Given the concerning picture of food marketing’s infiltration of children’s lives painted by the FTC               report, it is disappointing that they continue to perpetuate the myth that self-regulation can effectively rein in an industry whose profits rely on commercializing childhood."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest also weighed in with some strong words of their own, saying that Big Food’s pledges to be more responsible are "carefully tailored with loopholes" and arguing that there’s a "disconnect between the food industry’s talking points and what we actually see on television during children’s programming."

Given the crisis of childhood obesity in the U.S. and the seemingly endless ways food manufacturers have found to push their products on children, I completely understand why the CFCC and CSPI feel so strongly.

As a mother to a five-year-old, I also strongly believe that Big Food isn’t doing nearly as well as they should be.

From Jennifer Moore

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