Childhood Obesity, Junk Food Profits and the U.S. Congress

Earlier this year, an interagency working group, made up of the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced that they would be recommending that America’s food producers should voluntarily end all food advertising to children unless they were for healthy choices, such as whole grains, fresh fruits or vegetables.

Key words: recommending, voluntarily, children and healthy.

This first draft of voluntary guidelines set  maximum levels of fat, sugars and sodium, among other requirements, and asks food companies not to market foods that go beyond those parameters to children ages 2 through 17. The guidelines would apply to many mediums, including ads on television, in stores and on the Internet, in an effort to stem rising obesity levels.

Under the original proposal, salty, fatty or very sweet foods or foods with trans fats would no longer be advertised to children, defined as age 17 or under.

Once again… Key words: recommending, voluntarily, children and healthy.

In response, the food industry, backed by House Republicans, has aggressively lobbied against the voluntary guidelines, saying they are too broad and would limit marketing of almost all of the nation’s favorite foods, including some yogurts and many children’s cereals. Though the guidelines would be voluntary, food companies say they fear the government will retaliate against them if they don’t go along.

Officials from the Federal Trade Commission, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who jointly wrote the guidelines, will on Wednesday face the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has already made its distaste for the proposal clear. In a letter last month, Republicans on the committee wrote the agencies and called the (voluntary) guidelines “little better than a shot in the dark.”

Following the industry objections, the congressional pushback and a public comment period on the proposal, the government agencies involved appear to be softening their approach.

In testimony released by the committee before the hearing, David Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the coalition of government agencies is “in the midst of making significant revisions to the original proposal.

Among the changes he suggested are narrowing the age group targeted and focusing on children aged 2 to 11 instead of up to age 17 and allowing marketing of the unhealthier foods at fundraisers and sporting events. Vladeck also said that his agency would not recommend that companies change packaging or remove brand characters from food products that don’t qualify, as was originally suggested in the guidelines.

“Those elements of packaging, though appealing to children, are also elements of marketing to a broader audience and are inextricably linked to the food’s brand identity,” Vladeck says in prepared testimony. Tony the Tiger is well-known as the mascot for Frosted Flakes and Toucan Sam for Froot Loops, both Kelloggs’ cereals.

So, there you go. Democracy in action.

  • Companies market questionable food-like products directly to children.
  • Parents and special interest groups bring attention to this business practice
  • Government investigates and prepares a series of voluntary recommendations
  • Lobbyists for the affected food producers work hard in an attempt to dilute the voluntary recommendations
  • Congress supports the position of the food lobby
  • Recommendations are watered-down
  • Food producers resume original marketing practices
  • Children influenced by said marketing grow up to be obese adults still affected by said marketing practices
  • Continuing increases in systemic obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome et al drive healthcare costs up and quality of life down





  1. @siddiq – hallelujah! FINALLY someone said It’s up to the parents. I personally don’t give a damn how companies market something. My daughter(3 years old) and I grow our own food, and anything else that should be bought is heavily researched first. People need to get off their asses and really start taking responsibility for their actions. Your kids are fat not because of marketing, but because YOU aren’t doing your job as a parent.

  2. Well, that’s not exactly what I said… It’s a combination.

    You simply cannot deny the effects of marketing… it simply works.

    Hell, it even works with adults, just look at our whole political farce… it’s all about influencing…

    (how much easier is it to influence a child?)

    True, the parents play a part. But they’re out gunned.

    The Marketing Companies are relying on parents to take positions similar to yours.

    Look, we don’t want drug dealers near our schools right?

    And even-though you do all you can to protect you child from being exposed, you know it’s not enough…and so does the government…

    and that’s why we stress above and beyond the criminality of drugs use in and of it’self… and put extra punative consequence when it’s done near school.

    It should be no difference for food, which can be just as dangerous as drugs.

    Marketer are like drug dealers, only they push food like substancase… bluring the lines between what real food is, and what it aint.

    Billions of dollars spent each year to teams of phd’s, child behaviorist, child psycologist, and MBAs….who do nothing but figure out ways to get inside of your child’s head….

    And they do it “anticipating” your…(you) attitude.

  3. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Congress has squashed any sort of “voluntary” restrictions on junk-food advertising aimed at children.

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