March 15th, 2008

Groups Urge Limits on Food Ads for Kids

By Julie Jargon
The Wall Street Journal

Consumer organizations world-wide will pitch a proposal Saturday to limit the amount of food marketing to kids.

Consumers International, a group of advocacy organizations, and the International Obesity Task Force have developed a code of marketing that it hopes governments will adopt. The groups are calling for a ban on radio or television advertising of food and beverages that are high in fat, sugar and salt between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.; a ban on marketing such food via social-networking Web sites and other forms of new media; a ban on gifts and toys as a way of promoting unhealthy food; and a ban on the use of celebrities and cartoon characters to market such food.

“What we’re asking for is a global code so that consumers everywhere are protected from junk-food marketing. There’s a dispute about what constitutes child marketing. The food industry would say under 12, but at least under 16 is what we want,” says Luke Upchurch, a spokesman for Consumers International.

The groups will approach health ministers on Saturday, World Consumer Rights Day, in hopes that they will recommend the marketing code during the World Health Assembly, an annual policy-setting meeting of the World Health Organization that will be held in May. If the WHO endorses the code, it will be up to individual governments to decide whether to adopt the marketing restrictions through legislation.

Many food and beverage companies already have agreed to limit the marketing of their products to children, although Mr. Upchurch says the voluntary regulations don’t go far enough and aren’t always applied in every market where the companies sell their products. In November 2006, several companies, including General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., McDonald’s Corp. and PepsiCo Inc., pledged to advertise to kids under 12 only those products that meet certain nutrition standards.

The year before that, Kraft Foods Inc. adopted similar restrictions. “Our practices are global, and we adhere to them wherever we do business. For many years, we have not advertised to children under six years of age. For children 6-11 years old, Kraft advertises only better-for-you products that meet specific nutrition criteria,” says Kraft spokesman Mike Mitchell.

Kellogg spokeswoman Kris Charles says, “Kellogg is engaged, along with other global food and beverage companies, with the WHO on an ongoing basis on how to extend our commitments across the world.”

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