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The Fight Against Junk Food Advertising to Kids

General Mills

Do you dread walking through the cereal aisle in the grocery store, as your kids plead for every kind of sugary cereal plastered with a cartoon character? Well, your kids won’t be saying goodbye to Tony the Tiger or Lucky the Leprechaun any time soon. Government officials revising guidelines for marketing food to kids say they won’t insist the food industry do away with cartoon characters on cereal boxes any time in the near future, reports USA Today.

Earlier this year, in response to a 2009 congressional request, top nutrition and marketing experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) proposed voluntary guidelines for the food industry, setting maximum levels of fat, sugars and sodium, and asking food companies to refrain from marketing foods that exceed those guidelines to children ages 2 to 17. The guidelines would have applied to advertising in a variety of media, including television ads, online and in-store marketing, and were suggested in an effort to curb rising levels of childhood obesity, which the CDC estimates now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the U.S., triple the rate from just one generation ago. A whopping one-third of kids in the U.S. are now overweight or obese, and a recent federal report found that the prime sources of calories for American kids these days are from cookies, cakes, pizza and sweetened drinks—and that potato chips and French fries make up half of all of the veggies kids eat, reports MSNBC.

Study: Food Ads Are More Influential Than Parents

Since then, the food industry has aggressively lobbied against the voluntary guidelines, complaining that they are too broad and would limit marketing of virtually all Americans’ favorite foods, including children’s cereals and some yogurts, and adding that it’s up to parents, not the government, to make healthy choices for their kids. In response to objections from the food industry, congressional pushback, and a public comment period on the proposal, the government agencies that collaborated on the guidelines said that they would make significant revisions to the original proposal, including narrowing the age group targeted to focus on children ages 2 to 11 and allowing companies to keep their packaging as is (instead of removing cartoon characters from packaging of products that didn’t meet the proposed guidelines).

Plus: Junk Food Diet Linked to Lower IQ in Kids

The food and beverage industry spends approximately $2 billion annually marketing to kids, and the fast food industry spends more than $5 million daily marketing unhealthy foods to kids, according to statistics provided by the Prevention Institute. Kids watch an average of over 10 food-related ads daily, and 98 percent of them are for products high in fat, sugar or sodium, the Institute reports. In response, the Prevention Institute has launched a lobbying campaign called “We’re Not Buying It,” aiming to reduce the amount of junk food marketing targeted at kids. As part of the campaign, parents can petition President Obama to uphold the guidelines that had been proposed, in an effort to help parents make the better nutritional choices for their kids.

Do your kids beg for junk food they see advertised on TV or placed at their eye level in stores and emblazoned with cartoon characters? Do you give in, in order to avoid whining or tantrums, or do you hold your ground?