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FTC releases report on marketing food and beverages to kids

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released the results of a study it conducted on food and beverage marketing to children and adolescents.

The report, which was prepared by the FTC at the request of Congress, stresses the importance of self-regulatory initiatives by the food and beverage industry — as well as entertainment and media companies.

“Clearly, marketers need to market responsibly,” said Cliff Medney, CMO of Eastwest Marketing Group in response to the report. “There’s been a great effort made by a lot of these leadership companies to really step up and to understand their role within the new reality of childhood obesity,” he said.

The study analyzed confidential data obtained by the FTC from 44 companies about their advertising expenditures and activities in 2006. During 2006, those companies spent approximately 1.6 billion dollars on marketing food and beverages to young people between the ages of two and 18, said Mary Engle, director of the FTC’s advertising practices division, during a phone press briefing on July 29.

Television advertising “dominated the landscape,” accounting for 46% of all advertising expenditures, according to Engle. Internet and other new media consisted of 5%, she added. Other categories included packaging and in-store display, premiums and in-school marketing in the form of commissions for vending machine contracts.

The report grew from a workshop held by the FTC and the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2005. “Our goal then was to focus attention on positive initiatives that industry members and others could take to encourage healthier eating and living by our children,” said Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, who also participated in the press call.

Since that meeting, the Council of Better Business Bureaus launched its Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. At the time of the report’s release, the initiative consisted of 13 companies (Nestlé has since joined as its 14th member). Of those 13 companies, Cadbury Adams, Coca-Cola, Hershey, and Mars have “pledged not to direct any advertising to children under 12,” according to the study. The other nine companies have adopted minimum nutritional standards for foods and beverages they will market to children under 12, the report stated.

“It’s clear from our study that the food and media industries market food to our young using enormous resources and creativity,” Parnes said “Now, we are calling on both industries to deploy their talents and resources to improve the nutritional content of food and beverages marketed to children.”

One of the study’s recommendations is that all food and beverage companies adopt and adhere to meaningful nutrition-based standards for marketing their products to children under the age of 12. Another recommendation asks companies to consider “limiting branded merchandise intended for children to products or brand lines meeting meaningful nutrition-based standards.”

The report will serve as a benchmark measuring the “future process of voluntary efforts” to improve the nutrition profile of food and beverage marketing to kids, Parnes added.

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