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FTC proposes national standards for foods marketed to kids

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 29-Apr-2011

Related topics: Suppliers

Foods and beverages marketed to children should promote healthy choices, according to new proposals for voluntary national advertising standards from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The proposals are set out by an interagency Working Group charged by Congress to develop principles to guide industry, and are intended to limit advertising to children of foods high in sugar, sodium or saturated fat, and also contribute to a healthy diet.

They are based on two general principles: Firstly, that foods and beverages marketed to children should make a “meaningful contribution to a healthful diet” and contain either fruit, vegetable, whole grain, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra-lean meat or poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, or beans.

Secondly, they should minimize content of nutrients that could negatively affect health or weight. The guidelines are based on ‘reference amounts customarily consumed’ per eating occasion (RACC), which may not be the same as labeled serving sizes. Specifically, they should contain 1g or less of saturated fat and less than 15 percent of calories per RACC, no trans fat per RACC, less than 13g of added sugars, and no more than 210mg of sodium.

The Working Group proposes that all food products in categories most heavily marketed directly to children aged 2-17 should meet these principles by 2016, and that sodium guidelines should be revised in 2021.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said that the principles encourage industry to expand their existing voluntary efforts.

“To their credit, some of the leading companies are already reformulating products and rethinking marketing strategies to promote healthier foods to kids. But we all have more work to do before we can tip the scales to a healthier generation of children,” he said.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) praised the proposed standards, calling them “strong and sensible” and urged industry to accept them – but expressed concern about their voluntary nature.

A voluntary program called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative was set up by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) in 2006, aimed at “shifting the mix of advertising messaging directed to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles”. It claims that it has made a great deal of progress over the past five years and its 17 members are some of the biggest food manufacturers in the country, including the likes of Kraft, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s and McDonald’s.

However, CSPI’s director of nutrition policy Margo Wootan said: “Companies’ policies aren’t making enough of a difference. If companies are serious about addressing marketing to children, they‘ll agree to follow the proposed national marketing standards.”

The proposals are open for comment until June 13, 2011 and are available online here .