Obesity


Issue
Obesity has become an increasingly difficult problem in the United States, especially among youth. All facets of society have proposed ideas on how to combat the issue, including education campaigns, research into the impact of media on children and restrictions or bans on food marketing.

AAF Position
The AAF believes advertising can be a dramatic force in combating obesity. We are working with our member companies, clubs, federations, districts, physical education groups and others to seek out ways to educate consumers on how to live healthy lifestyles. The AAF’s member companies have introduced or reformulated thousands of food products to make them healthier and more nutritious. Advertising can be used for positive change, such as campaigns from the Ad Council in support of physical activity. The self-regulatory work done by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) and the National Advertising Division ensure that all advertising is fair and accurate. We support the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) and the National Advertising Review Council (NARC). The initiative will enforce pledges made by member companies to increase the promotion of healthier products and exercise, as well as limit the use of licensed characters and interactive games in their marketing.

Opposition
Consumer interest groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Commercial Alert and others have decried marketing as a source of the obesity problem and believe that eliminating the marketing of unhealthy food will end its demand. Critics of self-regulation have called for increased scrutiny of the way CARU operates. Some groups recommend that advertising distinguish between “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods, and some have called for an outright ban of all advertisements of “unhealthy” food to children.

Status
Beginning in November 2006, fifteen companies comprising the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative have pledged to focus their advertising directed to children under 12 on products meeting better-for-you nutrition standards or refrain from advertising to children entirely. The companies will restrict using third-party-licensed characters to products meeting nutritional criteria and Web sites promoting healthy lifestyles. The Council of Better Business Bureaus, which oversees the initiative, monitors the companies’ advertising to ensure compliance with the pledges. In July 2008, the CBBB released a report on its Children's Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative, announcing overwhelming compliance with companies' pledge obligations.

Senators Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, along with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Michael Copps, convened a Media and Childhood Obesity Task Force with major food and media companies and trade associations. AAF President & CEO Wally Snyder represents the AAF on the task force. Sen. Brownback said he is “hopeful that this task force will forge a voluntary, public-private partnership to effectively address the pressing issue of media and child health.”

A 2005 Institute of Medicine Report, “Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity,” warns that “current food and beverage marketing practices put kids’ long-term health at risk.” This report was requested by Congress, especially Sen. Harkin, and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The AAF believes this report does not adequately address proactive steps the food marketers have taken to combat obesity.

The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Health and Human Services convened a workshop on food marketing to children in July 2005. AAF President & CEO Wally Snyder spoke at the workshop, praising CARU for its hard work in monitoring advertising to kids and said that the organization is “a thread woven into the fabric of self-regulation,” noting that all ads directed at children undergo intense scrutiny—beginning with the advertiser, its agency and media outlets—before they air. In their report on the workshop, released in May 2006, the FTC and HHS made several recommendations for the food and advertising industries but did not call for further government action. Rather, the report called on all industries to intensify efforts to combat obesity already in place.

Updates


August 1, 2008: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Children and Families Subcommittee held two hearings on childhood obesity, highlighting self-regulatory efforts.

Last updated: October 2008

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