Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - Food Marketing Oversight

A recent report by the Dieticians of Canada suggests that internal controls by the food industry designed to regulate marketing to children are insufficient.  The paper, entitled Advertising of Food and Beverages to Children, aggregates data from a number of studies to illustrate the connection between marketing, advertising, and poor dietary health, and offers specific recommendations to the Canadian Minister of Health.  The paper discusses the measurable negative effect food advertising has had on children's health in Canada, and recommends the following:
•Even though food companies voluntarily self-regulate their ads, this may not be enough to reduce the negative impact on children’s food choices.

•Science-based standards for 'healthy' and 'less healthy' foods and beverages should be established. This work should be led by the federal government with input from other parties.

•TV ads are not the only ads that children see. Restrictions should apply to all advertising in all settings where children normally gather. These include product placements, sponsorships, advergaming, cartoon characters and marketing in schools.

•Ads for 'healthy' foods and beverages should be encouraged. Some research has shown that this may have positive effects on preferences for these products.
This paper looks to a US study on voluntary marketing standards by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The study looked at the nutrition of foods advertised by businesses participating in the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) which had taken a pledge to market healthier products to children.  According to the CSPI, "Products that companies identify as appropriate to market to children (approved products) met each company's own standards. However, the majority (59%) of approved products did not meet a single, third‐party nutrition standard."  An additional study, entitled The Impact of Industry Self-Regulation on the Nutritional Quality of Foods Marketed to Children by Children Now noted that "nearly three out of four (72.5%) of the foods advertised on television to children are for products in the poorest nutritional category. Known as “Whoa” foods, these products should be consumed only on “special occasions, such as your birthday,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Advertising for truly healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits, known as “Go” products, is virtually invisible. Commercials for such foods account for only 1% of all food advertising to children."

Interestingly, in Denmark, stringent standards on marketing to children are enforced by the Consumer Ombudsman.  Marketers are sent a very clear message that the natural credulity of Danish children may not be used to their advantage, and that any practices, covert or overt, are regulated.  Food for thought: Denmark's obesity rate is half that of the United States.

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