* Principles drop affected age to 11 and under
* Characters such as Ronald McDonald get reprieve
* Ads to general audiences exempted
* Ads to children 2 to 11 broadly limited
WASHINGTON, Oct 11 A government regulator that
is part of a working group concerned about junk food ads aimed
at children will announce on Wednesday it is backing off some
proposals for voluntary food marketing guidelines.
The interagency working group (IWG), made up of the Federal
Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, said in April companies should voluntarily end all
food advertising to children unless they were promoting healthy
fare, such as whole grains, fresh fruits or vegetables.
Under that proposal, salty, fatty or very sweet foods or
foods with trans fats would no longer be advertised to children
aged 17 or under.
But David Vladeck, head of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer
Protection, is expected to testify to a congressional committee
on Wednesday that the IWG made major changes in its proposals.
The agency's apparent change of heart comes amid fierce
opposition to any attempts at advertising curbs by the
deep-pocketed food, beverage and restaurant industries, which
are under increasing scrutiny for their contribution to
fast-rising U.S. childhood obesity rates.
Among the most dramatic changes is FTC's decision to exempt
older children from the guidelines.
"FTC staff has determined 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 the
covered marketing," according to Vladeck's written testimony,
which was available on the House Energy and Commerce
Committee's website prior to the hearing.
In the testimony, the FTC excluded advertising aimed at a
general audience and advertising that was part of charitable or
It also said it would not recommend banning clowns and
cartoon characters -- think Ronald McDonald and SpongeBob
SquarePants -- used to advertise unhealthy foods.
Advertisers, who also are lobbying against the proposals,
welcomed the changes, but said industry should be left to
"I think the best thing that they can do is to withdraw the
proposal and endorse the (industry-supported) Children's Food
and Beverage Advertising Initiative," said Dan Jaffe, vice
president of the Association of National Advertisers.
Jaffe was referring to an effort that sets voluntary
standards such as barring added sugars in juices and limiting
flavored milk to 24 grams of sugar. Its participants include
McDonald's Inc , General Mills Inc and PepsiCo
"We don't see why the government really needs to step into
this area," Jaffe said.
DAVID VS GOLIATH
Media companies, restaurants, packaged food makers and
beverage sellers formed the Sensible Food Policy Coalition to
fight the IWG recommendations. Those companies wield far more
political influence in Washington than the anti-obesity groups
that are supporting curbs on advertising.
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center
for Science in the Public Interest, said she was concerned that
Congress, which oversees the agencies in the IWG, would press
for the advertising principles to be scrapped.
"The thing that worries me the most is that the Congress is
not asking for little tweaks to the standards ... they're
asking the agencies to kill the whole thing," she said. "The
overwhelming majority of advertising to kids is for unhealthy
food, about 80 percent."
Wootan's concerns are not unfounded.
A background memo prepared for the U.S. House of
Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee indicated some
hostility to the IWG's proposed marketing guidelines. Lawmakers
sent a letter to the agencies in September asking questions
such as what evidence there is that junk food advertisements
are linked to obesity and what the proposal would cost, in
terms of ad revenue and jobs.
Representatives from the Grocery Manufacturers Association,
which represents packaged food makers, and the National
Restaurant Association each said the IWG should first study the
costs and benefits of any marketing restrictions before issuing
The Obama administration, with its goal of containing
healthcare costs, has emphasized children's health. First Lady
Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign has pushed children to
eat healthier food and exercise more.
Concern about obesity rates prompted the campaign. About 17
percent of U.S. children aged 2-19 are obese, according to data
on the CDC website. Nearly one in three U.S. children are
overweight and rates are rising quickly.