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FTC Has Its Eye on Kid Food Ads

26 Sep, 2012 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced it is keeping a close eye on food advertising targeting children because of rising childhood obesity rates, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal last week.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said the commission will release a report before 2013 that explains how several food companies market food to children as a way to put “sunshine on industry practices.”

For now, that’s pretty much all the FTC can do, even if they don’t like what they find. The Wall Street Journal reports that after the FTC tried to control ads on children’s TV in the 1970s, Congress banned it from making broad rules on how food is advertised to kids.

Just last year, Congress dealt the FTC and other agencies another blow after they proposed voluntary guidelines to get companies to advertise only healthy food to kids. The food and advertising industries said the guidelines were too strict, lobbying Congress. The agencies backed down, and the guidelines never surfaced.

However, Leibowitz said he plans to find other ways to encourage the industry to police itself by praising companies that are marketing healthier food to kids. The newspaper reports that part of this FTC effort is being driven by companies using games on smart phones to advertise to kids.

Earlier this year, a report by Yale University found that food companies have increased their advertising of their least nutritious foods to kids. The food industry has created the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative to monitor child-directed food advertising, and some regulators and child-health advocates have said that move helped improve food nutrition. However, some in favor of more regulation have said they’d like to see an independent policing system to watch food companies.

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