ABC's Lisa Stark reports from Washington:
The federal government today proposed its first ever nutritional standards for foods marketed to children. Bottom line: they are a leap forward but when enacted will be VOLUNTARY guidelines – not mandatory for the industry to follow. One key component of the new standards says the foods marketed to children must provide a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet – and there are specifics about what that means.
Mary Engle, the Associate Director for Advertising Practices at the FTC says, “They are tough standards, but it’s what the federal agencies believe contribute to a healthy diet. They are the foods children should be encouraged to eat”. She also says. “I suspect a great deal of what is currently advertised to kids would not meet these standards”.
Dr. David Katz, with the Yale School of Public Health called the guidelines “very useful.” He was pleased that they included not just limiting unhealthy ingredients, such as sugar and salt, in foods marketed to children – but that they also focused on what makes a healthy food that can be marketed to kids.
Others aren’t so sure that the voluntary guidelines would have much of an impact. Nutrition expert and NYU professor Marion Nestle told me. “This will be voluntary – forget it. Forget about it – it’s voluntary. How much more evidence do you need that these (food) companies are not going to do what they promised?”
I also spoke with Michele Simon – public health lawyer, who wrote: Appetite for Profit: How the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back. She says, “It is a step forward because it’s government proposing specific guidelines”, but she echoes Nestle saying, “We have plenty of evidence that anything voluntary does not work with industry. They keep coming out with new initiatives. Every time there is a threat with government stepping in – it’s the same pattern – noise, some government action, industry responding with “we’ve got it covered”. “
The voluntary guidelines would cover food marketed to those up to age 17 (most industry guidelines go up to children age 11 or 12) – so that’s a big change. They were drawn up under orders from Congress, by a working group from the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture. .
The nutrition standards will be published in the federal register in January, and open for comment. They will be finalized in a report to Congress next summer. There is always the threat of regulation if the industry fails to follow voluntary guidelines.
As for the industry, the Grocery Manufacture’s Association says data show that children are seeing fewer food, beverage and restaurant ads and that the mix of ads they are seeing includes more that promote healthful choices.