ANA Chief Blasts Feds On Issue Of Child Obesity

Under fire for contributing to childhood obesity, advertisers will do their part to combat the epidemic, but the industry won't act alone. That's the word from a top executive at the Association of National Advertisers.

In a blog posting Wednesday, ANA Executive Vice President Dan Jaffe asked why "no other segment of society has stepped up to the plate with a commensurate effort" to combat this social ill. Initiatives by food marketers include offering healthier products, removing soft drinks from schools and a current review of industry self-regulations of advertising targeting children.

"Where are the new bike paths or playgrounds so children can get more exercise?" Jaffe asked. "If obesity is a national crisis, why have physical-education programs been cut in the schools?" If Congress is serious about fighting childhood obesity, he wonders, why has it eliminated all funding for a campaign encouraging tweens to exercise?

Food marketers have been under increasing pressure from Congress and public-interest groups to curb marketing messages and ad tactics that entice young people to consume sugar-heavy products.

Jaffe also took issue with Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's charge that the industry overwhelms children with ads for unhealthy products. He said research from the ANA and the Grocery Manufacturers of America found that food, beverage and restaurant television advertising declined 13 percent from 1993 to 2003--the period when the obesity threat was heightened. Jaffe indicated that some unbiased fact-finding on the issue is forthcoming in an FTC report, likely to be released early next year.

While Jaffe argues that ads for unhealthy foods targeting children are on the decline, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said children are influenced by a mass of marketing messages. "Studies show that children eight and older are exposed to over six hours a day worth of media," he said. "Judging by the sheer volume of media and advertising that children consume on a daily basis, and given alarming trends in childhood obesity, we're facing a public-health problem that will only get worse unless we take action."

Sen. Brownback, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate announced yesterday that a joint government/industry task force will be formed and issue a report delineating voluntary steps both the public and private sectors can take to combat childhood obesity.

The task force, which will include representatives from the FCC and Congress as well as public-interest groups and the marketing industry, will likely issue the report in early 2008. Disney is already an announced participant.

In addition, Jaffe blasted a congressional proposal to prohibit so-called interactive advertising in children's programming, including listing a Web address. (The industry has been accused of trying to hook kids through games and other promotions on Web sites.)

Under the proposal, Jaffe wrote, "no episode of "Sesame Street" could provide a direct link to the "Sesame Street" Web site, even if the site did not sell any merchandise. ... This prohibition makes no sense and raises serious First Amendment concerns."

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