New Congressional Bill: Smackdown On Kids' TV Ads

kids watching tv

A leading ad industry trade group is dyspeptic over a congressional bill that could sharply curtail advertising on kids' programming. Looking to lessen childhood obesity, the legislation would place limits on ads targeting children and adolescents for foods with "low nutritional value."

In a blog post, Dan Jaffe, the top lobbyist for the Association of National Advertisers, wrote that the bill would have a "dramatic impact" on the business of kids' TV.

The Healthy Kids Act would empower the FCC to limit the amount of advertising for food/drinks with certain levels of trans fat, sugars and sodium to two minutes an hour on weekends and three on weekdays.

The proposed legislation would further allow the FCC to fully ban ads for foods that "do not contribute to a healthful diet for children and adolescents and the consumption of which is discouraged."



Which foods/beverages would be affected? That would be left to another government entity, the FTC. Ads targeting kids for products in this realm would be deemed an unfair trade practice.

The FTC would further have rights to determine the age range for which kids should not be exposed to certain advertising. Jaffe said it could include 12- to-19-year-olds, which might impact ads on programming "directed to teens and young adults."

The bill also employs a third federal arm, the Health and Human Services department. HHS would have the power to develop guidelines for food/beverage ads that take into account children/ adolescents' "emotional vulnerability ... (and) cognitive ability to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial content."

Democrats Jim Moran of Virginia and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey introduced the legislation and wrote in the bill that the industry has failed at self-regulation.

"Research shows that current food and beverage marketing practices influence children and youth to make choices that are not in keeping with healthful diets -- and agreement on effective voluntary industry standards has not been reached," the bill reads.

The ANA's Jaffe retorted that the bill "requires government to make a food-by-food choice of what types of advertising can be shown, and how much of it can be aired based on which foods it decides children should be 'encouraged' or 'discouraged' to consume."

That, he wrote, could be a violation of free speech.

The government or other organizations' efforts to limit advertising to fight childhood obesity is not new territory, but any initiative grabs the attention of networks and marketers. Jaffe said the ANA is determined to oppose unjust restrictions.

"We will continue to oppose strongly ... government censorship of truthful and non-deceptive advertising of legal products," he wrote.

While the bill alleges that the ad/marketing industry has failed to sufficiently regulate itself, Jaffe wrote that there is an initiative covering 80% of advertising to children, which is "committed to shifting the mix of advertising to healthier foods and beverage choices."

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