Childhood obesity is a topic of great concern to many medical experts and policymakers, from bariatric surgeons to First Lady Michelle Obama. Many alarming statistics support this concern: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of childhood obesity in the US has almost tripled since 1980 to 17%, and studies have shown that obesity in childhood leads to a higher rate of premature death in adulthood. Type 2 diabetes in children, once almost unheard of, is also on the rise.
So the stakes were high when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed guidelines in April designed to curb advertising of unhealthy foods to children, as required under federal law. But the food industry countered that the stakes were high in another area, as well: the economy. According to an article earlier this month in the Los Angeles Times, a spokesman for the Association of National Advertisers called the FTC guidelines — which would limit, for example, advertising of children’s cereals to those with less than 8 grams of sugar per serving — “reckless” and “unrelated to any question of whether the products that would be created would be palatable to consumers.” Meanwhile, an economic forecasting company associated with the industry estimated that under the FTC guidelines, as many as 74,000 jobs could be lost this year.
Then, about two weeks ago — just a few days after the LA Times article was published — the food industry presented its own guidelines for child food advertisements, presumably as a way to head off any further action by the FTC. According to a follow-up article in the Times, the industry’s plan also limits the levels of unhealthy nutrients in foods marketed to children, but not as much as the FTC proposed: Around a third of all recipes for foods and beverages aimed at children would need to change, compared with over 80% of popular products under the FTC’s proposal. Furthermore, the industry’s guidelines do not go into effect until the beginning of 2014. Nevertheless, the chairman of the FTC called the industry guidelines “healthy progress” and said the agency would consider the industry’s interests and efforts while formulating its final rules “in a pragmatic, non-regulatory way.”
What do you think — should the FTC defer to the food industry in this situation, having already put pressure on the industry to create advertising guidelines? Or should the FTC ignore the industry’s arguments about sales and palatability and create guidelines based only on nutritional research? Should Congress have directed the FTC to create rules for child food advertisements in the first place? Who is responsible for childhood obesity — parents, the food industry, schools, children themselves? Leave a comment below!