Obesity Report Delayed as Advertisers Prepare Their Plan

Jul 5, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Two senators are postponing a task force report on child obesity, an indication that the nation’s biggest food and beverage marketers are preparing to unveil major new concessions in how they market food to kids on TV.
Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, announced today that the joint kids and obesity task force they formed with the Federal Communications Commission’s Kevin J. Martin and Deborah Taylor Tate will report in September instead of next week.
The reason: A recommendation now would be outdated by initiatives to be unveiled July 18 at a Federal Trade Commission/Department of Health & Human Services workshop.
Sens. Brownback and Harkin said they launched the task force to foster marketing and media changes and that any initiative would have to be evaluated before deciding what else is needed.
“The extension will allow for a more thorough examination of new initiatives that many food and beverage companies are coordinating as well as a more comprehensive look at how all parties, especially the media, can work for the common good,” Sen. Brownback said in a statement today.
Sesame Workshop President-CEO Gary Knell, who has been volunteer coordinator of the task force, said he got a clear indication major changes are coming from marketers, which warranted waiting to examine them.
“I am led to believe that we will get some impressive commitments from major advertisers,” Mr. Knell said. “I am looking forward to dramatic statements on the part of the food companies so we can begin to look at media companies as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.”
The moves add a level of uncertainty to marketers’ support of children’s TV, but exactly how they affect ad buys remains unclear. Marketers could just alter the nutrition profile of products or switch the brands they advertise to kids, causing little disruption in media buying, or focus more of their ads on parents, causing much greater impact.
Advertisers’ moves also could ramp up pressure on networks to take their own steps to counter childhood obesity.
The task force was formed in response to pressure from legislators and several studies questioning whether food and fast food marketing—much of it on TV—was contributing to increasing childhood obesity and whether marketers and media companies were doing enough.
That same pressure prompted 11 of the country’s biggest advertisers of kids food to agree last fall for the first time to start taking nutrition into account in what they pitch kids.
The 11 unveiled a Council of Better Business Bureaus/National Advertising Review Council initiative and promised to devote at least half their kids food ads to promoting either healthy messages or healthy lifestyles, limit their use of licensed characters and take other steps including making specific public pledges of changes. The companies’ detailed public pledges are expected to be unveiled at the FTC/HHS workshop.
Some consumer advocates were upset that Congress and some FCC commissioners created a task force rather than acting and expressed disappointment with the delay in its report.
“From the beginning, I never understood the need for the task force,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “We have reports and lots of recommendations. What needs to be done is to do something, now.”
(Editor: Horowitz)


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