U.S. regulators have decided to scale down proposed guidelines on junk food marketing.
Relief descended on stalwarts in the food business as officials rolled back proposed guidelines limiting marketing and advertising to children of foods that contain added sugars, salt and saturated fat.
U.S. regulators announced at a House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday that they would now back off on junk food marketing guidelines put forth by the government earlier this year.
House Republicans and other opponents of the proposal demand proof that the measures would actually work to curb childhood obesity. They argue that the guidelines were too far reaching.
Officials from the Federal Trade Commission, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who collaborated on the guidelines, said at the hearing that they were not done writing the proposals yet. The final guidelines from would now restrict food ads to be targeted only at children under 12 years and not 17 as proposed earlier.
David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the coalition of government agencies was in the midst of making significant revisions to the original proposal.
The draft recommendations we issued were ambitious, Vladeck said at a joint hearing of two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees. As we studied the comments, however, we realized that perhaps we were too ambitious.
Vladeck suggested narrowing down the age group targeted and focusing on children ages two to 11 instead of up to age 17 and proposed allowing marketing of the less healthier foods at fundraisers and sporting events. Vladeck said his agency would not recommend that companies change packaging or remove cartoon characters from food products that do not qualify, as was originally suggested in the guidelines.
Media reports have hinted that House Republicans are backing the food industry, which has lobbied against the rules, saying the new guidelines may prevent the marketing of yogurt and children's cereals and harm manufacturers who abide by the standards. This appears to be a first step toward Uncle Sam planning our family meals, said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
According to a recent federal report, the prime sources of calories for American children these days are cookies, cakes, pizza and sweetened drinks. That same report says potato chips and French fries make up half of all the vegetables kids eat.
The Interagency Working Group had proposed its recommendations in April in a bid for the Congress to accept them. They focused on two basic nutrition principles for marketing food to children. Their understanding was that advertising and marketing should encourage children to choose foods that contribute to a healthy diet. The idea was to restrict saturated fat, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium in foods marketed to children to minimize the harm to children's growth and development.
A recent study by the Journal of Pediatrics found that children were more likely to choose familiar foods, especially those bombarded via targeted advertisements which overrule healthy options that parents might propose. Although voluntary, these recommendations did not call for any government regulation.
A final draft of the guidelines is likely to appear by year's end. It is a wait-and-watch scenario before the political food fight junks out healthy options for kids.