FTC: Parents need to monitor computers and television for empty calorie food ads

February 7, 2013

Jeff Nedelman

On commercial and cable television, on the Internet, in video games designed by food manufacturers, school-aged kids are being carpet-bombed with advertising of foods that contain little nutritional value.

Almost three years ago, 16 major food and beverage companies pledged to remove 1.5 trillion calories a year from the marketplace by the end of 2015, as compared with the number of calories sold in 2007. Have they met their pledge? Not so much, according to a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The sugar-sweetened cereals, snacks and sodas, which contain loads of non-nutritious calories, are still on the bottom shelves where kids can grab them. You do not need an MBA from an Ivy League school to know that relentless advertising to kids creates demand.

While everyone was enjoying the holidays, the FTC electronically published a massive new report on this issue in December, in which they stated: "The overall picture of how marketers reach children, however, did not significantly change" during the past three years for which data was available.

There are several things parents can act on now:

"¢ The major food companies have shifted a large amount of their TV advertising online; Internet advertising was up 50 percent. Cable channels such as Nickelodeon have made little changes at all. Monitor TV and computers for advertising content.
"¢ Parents need to learn to say "no" in the supermarket, even if it provokes a temper tantrum.
"¢ The quality of children's diets is far from what most registered dietitians would like to see. Kids are not only consuming too many calories, they are not getting as many calories from complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, like potatoes, which contain more potassium -- a "nutrient of concern" -- than bananas. Read the Nutrition Facts Panel before you buy. Do not be nutritionally illiterate. A few of the very best sites for information are: KidsHealth, Kids Eat Right, The First Lady's Let's Move!, and a hot-off-the-press book 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life by Dave Grotto, one of the top experts in pediatric obesity.
"¢ Exercise is essential. Even a walk around the block with the family dog counts. In major urban areas, recess has been banned due to drive-by gun violence, while in the wealthy suburbs, driver's education counts as exercise as school officials focus on increasing test scores. Become an active member of your child's PTA and voice your concerns.

All that said, the FTC report was not all doom and gloom. The agency acknowledged some food categories "“ including cereals, drinks, and fast-food kids' meals "“ showed "modest" nutritional improvement over the years.

In a somewhat convoluted statement, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said: "The Federal Trade Commission's latest report on child-directed advertising affirms the progress that industry is making under its self-regulatory framework, and that self-regulation is an effective mechanism for ensuring that the products seen on children's programming are foods and beverages that help families achieve a healthy diet."

I do not think so.

Jeff Nedelman has more than 30 years of experience in various industries, including a stint as a Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator and chief lobbyist for the nation's largest food trade association. In all those years, Jeff has learned that the shortest distance between two political points is not a straight line.

Originally published Feb 7, 2013 10:00:21 AM.