Food Marketing to Kids Argued on Capitol Hill

By ABC News

Oct 12, 2011 6:56pm

Reported by Mary Compton:

Calling proposed regulations for marketing food “radical,”  members of the food and advertising industries butted heads with representatives of three government agencies during a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill today.

 House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee members debated the merits of a federal proposal that could restrict the types of foods marketed to children.

In 2009, because of growing worry over childhood obesity, Congress asked the Federal Trade Commission,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create an Interagency Working Group to come up with recommendations for marketing  food to children. 

Last  April, the group released a preliminary list of proposed requirements, which called for reduced levels of sodium, sugar and saturated fats in foods marketed to children.

Today’s hearing ranged from arguments over whether the proposed tighter standards would  help curb childhood obesity or contribute to job loss, as some Republicans have suggested. Some questioned whether the government should be regulating  food marketing at all.

“We believe these are very radical proposals. There is nothing in these proposals that answers the key question that Congress has asked,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, at today’s  hearing. ” Across the board, we think proposals as they now stand should be withdrawn.”

Dr. William Dietz, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disagreed. “We know there is a linear relationship between television viewing and obesity” he said. “And it appears that food marketing to children plays an important role. The more television a child watches, the more likely they are to consume food while watching television. And those foods are more likely to be the foods that are advertised on television.”

Senior Marketing Counsel for Campbell’s Soup Co. Jim Baughman countered, saying, “I think the misconception is that food companies can control what people eat. In fact, we don’t control what people eat — they control what we can sell to them, and we have to be very conscious of that. Certainly, the criteria that have been set out in the proposal would make it impossible for us comply.”

Jaffe said that an analysis of the proposed regulations found that of the 100 most popular foods for children, 88 would be banned from advertising — and that could include yogurt.

“The federal government seems to be suffering from a severe split personality when it comes to nutrition standards,” Jaffe said of the disparities between the proposed guidelines and those of the school lunch programs, which are less stringent.

When pressed about this inconsistency, Robert Post at the USDA said, “The thread that holds all of the food nutrition programs together in the federal sector is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and that is the foundation that sets directional approaches for nutrients and foods. When it comes to differences … we’ve got to understand these are programs that focus on a particular need for a particular circumstance or a client, so the market basket would be different.”

Members of the subcommittee – not just the food and advertising industries – also debated some of  the Interagency Working Group’s proposals, and the amoung of appropriate regulation.

“Please don’t misunderstand. I am very concerned about the obesity epidemic in our nation,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said. “I have four young grandchildren, and I want them to make good dietary and lifestyle choices and grow up healthy. Parents, not government bureaucrats, are in best position to make sure good choices are made.”

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-N.Y., countered, saying, ”What are the comments and reactions of the Republicans? Their preliminary proposal is extreme. They don’t want Uncle Sam planning our family meals. It’s going to have an impact on jobs — that’s what they always say,” Waxman said.

One moment of levity came when Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said he wished they were sitting around drinking Diet Cokes. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif.,  said, with a laugh, that she wasn’t sure Diet Coke qualified as healthy.

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