Feds Propose Voluntary Principles for Marketing Food to Children

May 4, 2011

By Cassandra A. Soltis

The Interagency Working Group charged with drafting standards for marketing food to children has released draft nutrition principles, available here.  The proposed principles are intended to help food companies determine which foods should be marketed to children as a way to encourage a healthful diet and which foods should not be marketed to children. 

The proposal requests industry to reformulate and develop new products for those foods that are most heavily marketed to children aged 2-17, which include breakfast cereals; snack foods; candy; dairy products; baked goods; carbonated beverages; fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages; prepared foods and meals; frozen and chilled desserts; and restaurant foods.  Because most foods currently marketed to children would not meet the draft nutrition principles, the Working Group has proposed 2016 as the year for industry to fully implement them.

The draft principles are similar to those that the Working Group announced in December 2009 (see our previous post here) in that they set forth criteria to determine whether a food makes a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet (Nutrition Principle A) and provide limits on certain nutrients that can have a negative impact on health and weight (Nutrition Principle B).  The Working Group requests comments on the draft principles, including whether the principles “create incentives for manufacturers to reformulate a food product in a manner that would diminish the nutritional quality” of the food and what the impact of reformulation challenges will be on “manufacturers’ incentive and ability to improve the nutritional quality of the foods they market to children.”

The Working Group’s proposal also addresses the definitions of marketing to children, ages 2-11, and adolescents, ages 12-17.  The tentative definitions include 20 categories of advertising and promotional activities, including television, radio, and print advertising; ads on third-party Internet sites and other digital advertising, such as email and text messaging; cross promotions, including character licensing and toy co-branding; word-of-mouth and viral marketing; celebrity endorsements; and in-school marketing, among others.  The Working Group is proposing that for each of these categories, the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC’s”) definitions of when a promotional activity is targeted to children and adolescents will be used.  Because restrictions on marketing targeted to adolescents would likely also limit food marketing in media that reaches adults, the proposal requests “comment on whether it would be appropriate to more narrowly define the scope of marketing to which the nutrition principles would apply for adolescents.” 

Comments on the Working Group’s proposal must be submitted to the FTC by June 13, 2011.