Major Food Makers Rein in Junk Food Advertising

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Major Food Makers Rein in Junk Food Advertising

Recent drastic new initiatives by the food industry that aim to reduce the amount of ads boasting junk foods to children have landed on both sides of the fence, with media organizations applauding while being attacked by critics as having little, if no, affect, The New York Times reported.

With the new changes, at least half of the advertising directed at children under the age of 12 will promote healthy foods or messages that promote a healthy lifestyle, the report stated. In addition, the companies involved plan to halt advertising for food and beverages in elementary schools and instead, promote nutritious foods or healthy messages in interactive games. Along with this, the companies also agreed to limit the amount of licensed characters in advertising that promoted unhealthy foods.

The initiative is part of a group called the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Institute, and is made up of 10 companies that will follow the guidelines -- Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes, Unilever, Hershey's, Kellogg, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup and McDonald's. Over the next six to nine months, the companies involved will create individualized plans to address the new regulations, which will then be posted online and enforced by the Council for Better Business Bureaus, the report stated.

"It's really much different than what's happened in the past," said C. Lee Peeler, executive vice president of advertising self-regulation for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The guidelines are "important steps," according to Deborah Platt Majoras, the Federal Trade Commission chairwoman. "The FTC works closely with a number of self-regulatory programs and will be watching closely to see whether this program results in meaningful improvements in food and beverage advertising to children," she said in a statement cited by the Times.

Until now, children's advertising was left to the Children's Advertising Review Unit, an industry-financed organization that received harsh criticism. Under the new guidelines, the group would have broader authority to monitor children's advertising, the report stated.

But not all agree that these plans will change much for children's advertising. Opponents of the measures, including nutrition experts, stated that the plans contained loopholes and would have little value. They believe that new laws, rather than self regulation, are required. "I'm really disappointed," Michael F. Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Times. "I thought they were going to come up with something that was somewhat responsive to the problem. It's pretty pathetic."

Jacobson cited that "healthy ads" could include sugar-coated cereal, as it meets the Food and Drug Administration's "healthy" definition, which does not take sugar content into consideration. He added that the "healthy lifestyle message" could portray McDonalds' mascot Ronald McDonald riding a bike while eating junk food. "That message still does more harm than good," he told the newspaper. "It's a joke."

"Self regulation has been a dreadful failure for decades," Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a consumer advocacy group, told the Times. "This is more of the same."

Last year, the Institute of Medicine found that food marketing aimed at children were "out of balance with healthful diets and contribute to an environment that puts their health at risk," the report stated. The federal advisory group concluded that Congress should enforce measures if the food industry did not do an adequate job of self-regulation.