Food Guidelines Causing Media Indigestion


Washington —Representatives of food marketers, cable
operators and broadcasters say more than 1,700 cable and
broadcast programs could be affected by complying with
new government recommendations on voluntary marketing
mandates and restrictions on marketing food to kids.

Driven by Congressional directive and the very
real problem of childhood obesity — which translates
into adult obesity and projected billions of
dollars in related health-care costs — the new guidelines
would, within five years, require that all foods
directly marketed to kids (including those advertised
on TV) meet a new set of nutritional standards.

American Association of Advertising Agencies executive
vice president Richard O’Brien has already
called the new standards “draconian.”


The recommendations come from an interagency
working group of the Federal Trade Commission, the
Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department
and the Centers for Disease Control. The
FTC is still accepting comments on the proposed
recommendations pending final approval.

Media firms have already been cutting down on
the sweets and boosting the veggies through the
Council of Better Business Bureau’s Children’s Food
and Beverage Initiative.

The working group said it has examined that initiative
and other self-regulatory efforts, but suggested
more needs to be done, including expanding the
age range to 17 for some restrictions. Currently, the
industry initiatives are targeted to kids 12 and under.

While the working group went out of its way to say
the proposals were guidelines and not new regulations,
the weight of those agencies tips the scale toward
compliance, industry representatives suggested.

O’Brien of the 4A’s liked the acknowledgement of self-regulation
as the right approach. “What is troubling is that the
suggested standards, which [the agencies] hope will be incorporated
into a voluntary self-regulation program, are so draconian,”
he said. “In essence, they basically limit entirely the
products you can advertise to children. So, in a sense it is like a de facto elimination of a whole category of products.”

The working group recognizes in the report that “[i]f the
proposed nutrition principles were fully implemented by industry
as proposed, a large percentage of food products currently
in the marketplace would not meet the principles.”

That is one of the reasons the group’s recommendations
are open to further comment and might need to be adjusted,
the group said.


By 2016, the recommendation said, foods advertised to kids
should “make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet;
and (B) minimize the content of nutrients that could have a
negative impact on health and weight.”

That is interpreted to mean that at least 50% of those healthy
foods must contain one or a combination of fruit, vegetables,
nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, extra-lean meat, grain or low-fat milk.
On the other end, there is a need for limits on ingredients that
could have a “negative effect” on health and weight, namely
saturated fat, transfat, added sugars and sodium.

The guidelines would apply to virtually every means of marketing.
(See box.)

Jim Davidson, executive director of the Alliance for American
Advertising, said the recommended limits on fats, salts
and sugars have been adjusted since December 2009, when
initial recommendations were outlined. He also said it’s possible
that the limits on marketing to teens might only apply to
social media, not television.

The members of Davidson’s group include the major
ad associations, the National Association of Broadcasters
and the National Cable & Telecommunications

Davidson doesn’t deny that there is an obesity problem
or claim that steps shouldn’t be taken. The government has
not done its due diligence in concluding that this proposal
achieves that result, though, he said.

“Anything that would affect over 1,700 TV shows is
something of concern,” Davidson said. His concern is
that the government should not be able to impose major
restrictions on advertisers and media companies, and
reduce the number of shows people can advertise on,
without showing substantial evidence that the rules will
achieve the objective.

He also said the government has not established that the
recommendations will address the problem.


Davidson said the figure of 1,700 programs was derived
from Nielsen studies, and is the number of shows — based
on the guidelines’ limits on marketing to shows with a
specific percentage of young viewers — that certain foods
could not be advertised in.

In addition to traditional snack foods like sodas and
candy, that could also include most cereals, vegetable
soups and peanut butter and jelly, he said.

Adonis Hoffman, an adjunct marketing professor at
Georgetown University and former general counsel for
the 4A’s, said mandatory regulations would be needed at
some point.

“The self-regulatory scheme set up by the food industry
several months ago was a good beginning, but it is not
fair to expect marketers to come up with the next steps on
their own. It is not in their DNA to curtail their own marketing
practices,” Hoff man said.