The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services today released a report recommending concrete steps that industry can take to change their marketing and other practices to make progress against childhood obesity. The report is a product of last summer’s joint FTC/HHS workshop, which provided a forum for industry, consumer, academic, and government stakeholders to examine the role of the private sector in addressing rising childhood obesity rates in the United States. Since 1980, childhood obesity rates have tripled among adolescents and doubled among younger children. Workshop participants acknowledged that many factors contribute to childhood obesity, but recognized that regardless of the causes, responsible marketing can play a positive role in improving children’s diets and exercise behavior.
“Responsible, industry-generated action and effective self-regulation are critical to addressing the national problem of childhood obesity,” said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. “The FTC plans to monitor industry efforts closely, and we expect to see real improvements.”
“Businesses need to work with mothers, fathers and children to bring America’s epidemic of childhood overweight under control,’’ said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. ``Families can help children to be physically active and to eat right, and business can encourage children to eat nutritious foods in proper portions.”
The workshop focused on the role that the private sector, including food, media, and entertainment companies, can and should play to address the increasing problem of childhood obesity in the United States. Food companies presented their product, packaging, labeling, advertising, and marketing initiatives designed to promote lower calorie, more nutritious foods.
Media and entertainment companies discussed their incorporation of health and nutrition messages into programming and their support for public education campaigns featuring these messages. Workshop participants provided their views on the advertising guidelines that are enforced by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB). Participants offered both praise and criticism of existing industry practices and self-regulatory efforts. Some also offered suggestions for ways that industry can build on current efforts and take new steps to tackle the childhood obesity problem.
The report summarizes the presentations, panel discussions, and oral statements made at the workshop and the written comments submitted. It also provides specific recommendations for action by the food industry, the media and entertainment industry, and CARU.
The FTC and HHS offered recommendations for action in the report, and noted that both agencies plan to monitor closely progress on these recommendations.
The agencies recommended that food companies:
In focusing on racial and ethnic populations in which childhood obesity is more prevalent, the agencies recommended that:
The agencies recommended that media and entertainment companies:
The report noted that the current CARU Guides are a good foundation for industry self-regulation, but the agencies recommended that the Guides be expanded and their enforcement enhanced. Specific agency recommendations to be enacted right away included:
The agencies recommend that industry consider additional self-regulatory measures, including:
The agencies recognize the CBBB recently announced the formation of a new self-regulatory working group that will be reviewing the CARU Guides.
The agencies will closely monitor industry progress in implementing the recommendations set forth in the report, and in the future one or both of the agencies will issue a follow-up report assessing the progress that industry has made. In addition to this follow-up report, the FTC also is conducting a study on the nature and extent of food marketing techniques directed at children and adolescents. Information on good nutrition for kids can be found on the HHS Web site at http://www.hhs.gov/kids.
The FTC vote authorizing staff to issue the report was 5-0.
Copies of the report are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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