This past week the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) made a move that reminded me with bitter force just how bloated and bureaucratic our government has become. Case in point: the apparent victory by food industry lobbyists to weaken what were once reasonable proposed standards for marketing food to children.
A few months ago, an interagency working group (IWG) recommended nutrition standards for food and beverages that are marketed to children. The panel, which was made up of the FTC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture prepared a preliminary report, which can be read here.
As I mentioned in my previous post on this proposal, the panel's recommendation boiled down to this:
By the year 2016, all food products within the categories most heavily marketed directly to children and adolescents ages 2-17 should meet two basic nutrition principles — they should contain foods that make a "meaningful contribution to a healthful diet" (such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, eggs, nuts and seeds, or beans) and they should limit nutrients with a negative impact on health or weight (saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium.)
The idea behind these voluntary recommendations was that if you are going to advertise a food product for kids — plastering your brand's image all over their schools, TV shows, and DS games — it should at least be somewhat healthy for kids to eat.
But that is apparently too much to ask. And even though everyone is crying about childhood obesity (nearly one in three American kids are currently overweight) lawmakers and the FTC — under heavy pressure from food industry lobbyists — are backpedaling on these recommendations.
For starters, the FTC has decided to redefine the term "children," so that it only encompasses kids younger than 12. The FTC concluded “that, with the exception of certain in-school marketing activities, it is not necessary to encompass adolescents ages 12 to 17, within the scope of covered marketing.”
That point makes me a little bit mad. It's arbitrary to say that tweens and teens are not really affected by marketing. In fact, I would beg to differ drastically here because this is precisely the age when kids are making their own food choices without the direct influence of their parents and are most susceptible to peer-pressure and marketing.
But if you want to see me get really mad, let's talk about the other point that is under attack. Some lawmakers — specifically Republican members of the House Commerce Committee — sent a letter to the interagency panel in September, attempting to shoot holes in the plan to regulate the marketing of food to children stating, “the IWG offers no scientific support for the notion that restricting advertising will actually help reduce childhood obesity."
What a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense. Isn't the purpose of marketing to increase a person's knowledge of and desire for a product? If it's not, then why do it? Advertise unhealthy food to children and they will want unhealthy food — it's pretty simple. For these lawmakers to "question" this assertion is beyond ridiculous and just another tactic to put industry over people.
Now let me get one thing straight: I am a parent and I take full responsibility for the food that my children eat. I believe that it is my responsibility as a parent to feed my children healthy food. But, let's face it, while parents, schools, food manufacturers, TV shows, video game makers, and celebrity chefs are busy pointing the fingers at one another, American children are getting fatter and fatter each day. There is no one person or industry that is directly at fault; rather, we are all in this together.
I need to say "no" to my kids when they beg for unhealthy food. In the same regard, school administrators need to keep vending machines loaded with junk food out of schools, and the food industry needs to reel in the products that are directly advertises to children.
I know how to say "no" to my children, but when they are confronted with ads everyday — pervasive ads that feature characters from their favorite shows or the ads for an unhealthy product that you find on the back of another seemingly healthy product — it makes my job that much harder. And it ticks me off that these companies are allowed to tell my kids lies, making them think that their product is "healthy" because it has calcium or fiber when it is loaded with sugar and fat.
I'm NOT saying that these companies should stop making junk food. Folks should have a right to eat chips or drink soda whenever they want. If a parent decides to offer some to their kids, that is their right too. But I AM saying that I don't want these companies to be allowed to lie to my children and tell them that they are good foods for them to eat.
So I'll keep doing my job. I'll keep saying "no" to my kids and making sure they eat their fruits and veggies. All I ask is that my government stand behind me on this, rather than sell out my kids' health to the highest bidder.