FTC Releases Guidelines for Food Marketing to Children: Show Your Support by July 14

July 11, 2011

by Sarah Rosenberg, HSC intern

Marketing food to children is big business: the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimated that corporations spend some $1.6 billion annually on it. Print, TV and other electronic media comprise a big part of that, but less obviously, advertisers are reaching kids during the school day with nearly $200 million of the total sum going to in-school marketing. These things are still fresh in my memory from high school: the brightly labeled vending machines, colorful posters in the cafeteria with cereal mascots grinning about balanced breakfasts, and brand foods for snacks and fundraisers. I also remember that I never thought much of it.

With childhood obesity continuing its upward trend [pdf, see p. 7] through much of the country, many people, including myself, are coming to realize that it is essential to address marketing. Adults may be able to tune it out, but children can be strongly influenced by advertising. Until now, there has been no regulation of marketing food to children, whether inside or outside of schools. However, the FTC, in partnership with several other agencies, recently released new voluntary guidelines for such marketing, to be implemented later this year.

The guidelines provide a framework for corporations to bring their marketing in line with the most recent dietary guidelines for children and are “designed to encourage children, through advertising and marketing, to choose foods that make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet.” Thus, much of the recommendations focus on what constitutes allowable ingredients and proportions for foods targeted to kids.

Significantly, the recommendations also cover in-school marketing, which includes “advertising or promotional activities in or around” schools; “payments to schools or school systems pursuant to food and beverage contracts;” and philanthropic donations.

We at HSC welcome these new guidelines and hope that food marketers will take them to heart in developing their marketing policies. HSC is signing on to a letter of support for the new guidelines, written by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. As they have written:

[M]arketing to children influences their food preferences, purchases, and ultimately what they eat. Right now, their environment is filled with marketing for unhealthy foods. We hope our nation’s food marketers will make children’s health a priority and adopt these voluntary principles.

We encourage you to show your support for the new FTC guidelines by submitting comments here. The FTC is accepting comments until July 14, 2011. You can check out suggested langauge to adapt and use for your comments here [.doc].