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FTC set for next step in kid marketing efforts

By Lorraine Heller , 19-Jun-2007

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are to hold a forum to examine the food industry's marketing practices to children, and to review the progress of actions taken so far to help combat childhood obesity.

The event, which will bring together members from industry, media, and self-regulatory groups, will also examine the steps that need to be taken next. Weighing In: A Check-Up on Marketing, Self-Regulation, and Childhood Obesity follows a workshop hosted by FTC and HHS in 2005, which examined the self-regulatory initiatives already undertaken. This resulted in the agencies last year issuing a report that provided a list of recommended self-regulatory actions for companies marketing food and beverages to children. The forthcoming forum, due to be held in Washington, DC on July 18, marks the next step in the agencies' efforts to address the growing incidence of childhood obesity. Representatives from all sectors will report on progress in implementing the recommendations from the 2006 report. The forum will also provide an opportunity for consumer groups, advertising specialists, and other key experts to review the progress of actions undertaken to date, and to consider what steps should be taken next. Other speakers will discuss public education efforts addressing healthy eating and physical activity and will present new research on the amount and types of advertising children see on television. In a report published earlier this month, FTC revealed that food advertising on children's television has not increased in almost three decades. However, the agency is currently working on another report, which will examine all the other types of food marketing aimed at children and adolescents. The separate study will include information on the types of food marketed and the types of marketing techniques used. The amount spent on marketing and the nature of marketing activities will also be examined, as well as any marketing policies, initiatives, or research in effect or undertaken by food and beverage companies. Such efforts underline the growing focus on responsible marketing to children, which has had governments, health bodies and industry worldwide examining previously unquestioned practices. A major step was taken last week by cereal and snack giant Kellogg, which said it would adopt global nutrition standards for the products it markets to children. Those products that fall short of the criteria will be reformulated, or will no longer be marketed to kids, said the firm. The move reveals a significant level of commitment from Kellogg, and goes a long way in addressing current childhood health concerns. At the same time, it also reflects well on the image of the firm as a socially responsible group. Kellogg is also part of another major initiative, together with ten other leading food companies, which last year pledged to shift their advertising targeting children towards healthier options. Initial participants in the voluntary self-regulation program, which is backed by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB), the parent group of the industry-funded Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), are Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, PepsiCo and Unilever. Masterfoods has also since joined, bringing the current total up to 11 participating companies. These companies, which are thought to account for more than two-thirds of children's food and beverage television advertising expenditures, committed to devote at least half of their kids' advertising to promote healthier products, good nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

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