The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is hosting the forum in Washington, D.C., which will gather food industrialists, consumer and trade groups and politicians to hear what food companies plan to do in the cultural fight against childhood obesity.
"Weighing in: A Check-Up on Marketing, Self-regulation and Childhood Obesity" will feature data that is expected to show the progress of companies such as McDonald's, Kellogg and Campbell Soup in marketing healthier food and messages.
Mary Sophos, senior vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, says that members of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative will assure the assembled today that a minimum of half of all ads to children will be for healthier food.
Eleven major food companies have made voluntary commitments through the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, launched last fall. Policies are expected to include nutrition standards for foods advertised to children and restrictions on the use of licensed characters.
Last month, Kellogg Co., which makes Froot Loops, said it would phase out advertising its products to children under age 12 unless the foods meet specific nutrition guidelines. The company was responding to a threatened lawsuit by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the food lobby group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
CSPI will hold its own teleconference today at 12:30 p.m. to discuss the initiatives presented.
Walt Disney Co. has said it will allow its characters to be used only in the advertising and marketing of healthy foods. And Kraft Foods Inc. in 2005 adopted nutritional guidelines for food advertising aimed at children.
Trade groups such as the Association of National Advertisers feel the industry is doing its part. Dan Jaffe, executive vice president/government relations at the ANA, says he hopes that those gathered today will be satisfied with what the food and beverage sector is doing and ask where the federal and state governments are in all this.
"I see no sign of a major effort to redesign cities that make it easy to bike, easy to play, which is essential if messaging by the advertising community is going to fully be able to reach the goals we all have, which is turning back trends in regard to obesity," he tells Marketing Daily.
To no one's surprise, the food industry has downplayed the effect of its multi-billion efforts to sway consumers old and young to buy its products--saying that its messages don't persuade people to overeat, but instead build brand loyalty.
The new research from Britain suggests otherwise.
In one study, researchers showed kids between the ages of 5 and 11 a cartoon preceded by 10 ads. One set of kids saw ads for toys; the other saw ads for food. Afterward, the kids were allowed to sample healthy and less-healthy bowls of food.
The kids who saw the food ads ended up eating 14 to 17% more calories than the group that saw the toy ads, according to the study published in the medical journal Appetite. The results were more dramatic among the second test group of 9- to-11-year-olds, who ate from 84 to 134% more calories after being exposed to food ads.
None of the foods offered to the groups of kids was included in the ads they saw.