June 09, 2007

The U.S. GOVERNMENT will spend more than $1 billion this year on nutrition education to promote fresh fruits and vegetables as an alternative to unhealthy foods for children to eat and snack on, but most of those promotional funds will be wasted, according to an analysis of 57 such programs conducted by the Associated Press. Could it be because the food marketing industry will spend more than ten times that amount promoting some less-than-healthy culinary choices? Well, we're about to find out, as some of the nation's biggest food marketers prepare to unveil a set of new public initiatives designed to fix that paradox and get some federal regulators and public advocacy groups off their backs.

Awaiting those initiatives, a big government task force has delayed a report to legislators and regulators that would have made recommendations on how to curtail unhealthy food marketing -- primarily TV advertising -- aimed at kids, according to trade magazine Advertising Age.

"I am led to believe that we will get some impressive commitments from major advertisers," Gary Knell, president-CEO of Sesame Workshop, and the volunteer coordinator of the task force, tells Ad Age. "I am looking forward to dramatic statements on the part of the food companies so we can begin to look at media companies as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem."

The task force's report, which was originally due to be released around the middle of this month, apparently has been postponed until September because the food industry's lobbyists managed to convince task force members that some significant actions will be revealed during a joint Federal Trade Commission and Department of Health and Human Services workshop July 18.

Ad Age reporter Ira Teinowitz speculates, "Marketers could alter the nutrition profile of their products or switch kids' ad buys to brands that are more healthful, which would cause minimal disruption in media buying. But they could also focus more of their ads on parents, which would transfer spending to adult-oriented media. Advertisers' moves could also ramp up pressure on TV and cable networks to take their own steps to counter childhood obesity."

The possibility of such self-regulating initiatives, however, has not impressed everyone, especially not House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has been pressuring broadcast industry regulator Federal Communications Commission to weigh in on the matter, because he does not believe the food industry's self-regulation will go far enough.

"Chairman Markey is disappointed that the task force did not reach a set of meaningful, concrete commitments from the food and media industries," Markey's office told broadcasting trade magazine B&C. "The Institute of Medicine asked industry to take such steps more than two years ago, and we're all still waiting for those commitments to materialize.

"Further, this demonstrates that the FCC needs to initiate a rulemaking into food marketing in children's television now, as the task force is unlikely to result in anything in the near future."

by Joe Mandese
Joe Mandese is Editor of MediaPost.
Courtesy of http://www.mediapost.com

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