Representatives from the food, television and advertising industries are to team up to create a task force designed to examine the link between TV commercials and the rising rate of childhood obesity.
The government and industry initiative will be spearheaded by Senator Sam Brownback, together with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin and FCC commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate.
Established in response to mounting concerns over the impact of product marketing on American children's health, the Joint Task Force on Child Obesity will also involve representatives from consumer advocacy groups and health experts.
"Today, children watch two to four hours of television per day and view 40,000 ads per year. And the majority of these commercials are for candy, cereal, soda and fast food. And while the amount of television watched by American kids has been increasing in the past twenty-five years, so have their waistlines," said Martin at the launch of the task force on Wednesday.
According to a report issued this month by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), one third of American children are either obese or at risk for obesity. And the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that in the past quarter century, the proportion of overweight children aged 6-11 has doubled, while the number of overweight adolescents has tripled.
The new task force, which includes representatives from the Beverly LaHaye Institute, Disney, the Parents Television Council and Sesame Workshop, plans to issue a report based on the work it will conduct, which will be designed to educate parents and encourage best practices for industry.
Food advertising specifically targeted at children has come under fire of late. A recent survey in the US found that three quarters of such advertising promotes products with nutritionally-deficient and high calorie ingredients.
According to research by Kristen Harrison, a speech communication professor at the University of Illinois, nutrient-poor high-sugar products such as candy, sweets and soft drinks now dominate television advertising aimed at children between the ages of 6 to 11.
In the Children's Television Act of 1990, Congress enacted limits on the amount of advertising that could be shown during children's television programming. But as the nation's childhood obesity crisis increases, the industry is likely to see further restrictions implemented.
Indeed, in February, the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) announced it would review its guidelines on how companies should advertise their products to children.
Largely a response to growing concern that irresponsible advertising is contributing to the current obesity crisis, the move included an examination of paid product placement in children's television and the use of online games and popular characters to promote products.
"Studies show that children eight and older are exposed to over six hours a day worth of media," said Senator Brownback this week.
"Judging by the sheer volume of media and advertising that children consume on a daily basis, and given alarming trends in childhood obesity, we're facing a public health problem that will only get worse unless we take action."