Won’t Ban Junk-Food Ads for Kids, Official Says

Fri Mar 11, 2005 04:37 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government will not ban or limit junk-food advertising to children, but wants the industry to set new guidelines to promote healthy eating and minimize obesity, a top regulator said on Friday.

Regulators will host a workshop this summer to help food makers and advertisers develop the guidelines, said Deborah Majoras, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission.

“Let me make clear, this is not the first step toward new government regulations to ban or restrict children’s food advertising and marketing. The FTC tried that approach in the 1970s and it failed,” Majoras said at a Consumer Federation of America conference.

The announcement “is a call to action for industry to examine what is working and what more can be done through responsible marketing, product innovations and other approaches to promote healthy food choices and lifestyles in children,” she said.

About 9 million children over age six are obese, according to an Institute of Medicine report released last September. The independent group that advises the government called on the food, beverage and entertainment industries to self-regulate how they sell food and drink to children.

Some critics of the fast-food industry partly blame shrewd marketing for an increase in obesity, arguing that food too high in calories or fat should not be advertised to kids.

Dan Jaffe, executive vice president for the Association of National Advertisers, said the industry has had an effective self-regulatory system since 1974. An industry-backed group screens ads aimed at youth to make sure they are appropriate for children.

“We certainly don’t see any reason or any need for a new system to be imposed. There’s a very strong existing system,” Jaffe said.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the FTC, which polices advertisements for misleading claims, will host the marketing workshop, Majoras said.

“For this workshop to be effective, it must take a serious look at the impact that current junk-food marketing has on kids and address the remedies that should be implemented to protect kids,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight, based on a ratio of weight to height known as BMI (body mass index), and about half of those are considered obese.

Obesity raises the chances of heart disease, some cancers and other health problems and adds billions of dollars in health-care costs.