Curbing ads to curb children obesity

December 8, 2008 by  

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`Tis the season to be jolly. And ’tis also the season to be eating, drinking, and feasting – and becoming obese in the process. It’s especially difficult for kids who are bombarded with advertisements of goodies right and left.

Now I am not one to scrooge about and say “Bah! Humbug!” every Christmas. I have two little boys who are as keen on Christmas and Christmas treats just like other kids. But just because it’s Christmas, that doesn’t mean we should forget our health – and that of our family. After all, obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In recent years, it has become an epidemic even among children.

It is therefore music to my ears when I heard about the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. Launched by the Council of Better Business Bureau (BBB) in November 2006, it started a bit slow but has gained momentum since then. As of June this year, 13 major food companies have joined the initiative pledged their commitment. Currently there are 15 and these include well-known names such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, McDonald’s, Cadbury Adams, Hershey, and Mars.

But what is the initiative about?

“Under the terms of the Initiative, participating companies agreed to devote at least 50 percent their advertising directed to children under 12 to promote healthier dietary choices and/or to messages that encourage good nutrition or healthy lifestyles. Healthier-product pledges must be consistent with established scientific and/or government standards, including USDA Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid, and FDA standards for health claims. Each company prepares a Pledge that describes its commitment. This document must be approved by the Initiative staff. The Pledges are available for public viewing on the BBB web site after they have been approved.”

The pledge is voluntary and self-regulated.

This month, another major food industry player finally made a pledge it wasn’t prepared to make earlier – Nestlé. Claiming to be “the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company“, it has been heavily criticized for selling too many junk food. Based on the assessment of the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), 93% of Nestle products for aimed children under 12 were “of poor nutritional quality.” Come January 1, 2009, however, Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company will “only advertise foods to children that meet nutritional guidelines.” Also excluded from the under-12 ads is one of the company’s best selling brands, WONKA candies, named after Roald Dahl’s famous chocolate maker in his book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

While consumer groups are happy with Nestlé’s move, there are still, according to CSPI, many foodcompanies which are not part of the Initiative and these include “Chuck E. Cheese’s, Subway, Yum Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, sponsor of the Book It! Program for schools), Perfetti Van Melle (maker of Airheads candies), and Topps (maker of Baby Bottle Pop and other candies)”.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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