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Food fight – Capitol Hill vs. Madison Avenue

Could guidelines for how food is marketed to children lead to Ronald McDonald's demise?
Could guidelines for how food is marketed to children lead to Ronald McDonald's demise?

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Ronald McDonald and Toucan Sam are just as popular, if not more so, than SpongeBob Squarepants and Hannah Montana. Television ads for fast foods and sweet treats jam the cartoon schedule, but now a federal government agency wants kids to be sold on healthier choices.

The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG) is asking food marketers to pitch foods with lower fat, lower sodium, lower sugar, and more grains, fruits and veggies. They say it would prevent obesity in children. Key players in the food industry are dismayed by the proposals. The Association of National Advertisers states, "Report after report has shown that advertising is not a primary causal factor in childhood obesity – in fact, advertising on children’s programming has been declining while obesity rates have gone up." They go on to claim that wheat bread, most yogurts, peanut butter and even 2 percent milk would violate the proposed standards.

The IWG concedes their nutritional targets "are ambitious and, in certain respects, may differ from specific federal regulations and guidelines, but that doesn’t mean they’re in conflict." Lawmakers are getting in on the fight. Some Republican legislators have written a letter asking that the first draft of proposals be withdrawn – even though the standards are voluntary. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will be hearing testimony from all the heavy hitters tomorrow, but first AirTalk wants to hear from you.


Could restrictions on ads improve the health of children? What ads do you want your kids to see? What foods do you want them to eat? If standards carry the weight of the IWG – which is made up of the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture – are they truly voluntary? Do the proposals violate free speech principles?


Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest

Beth Johnson, spokesperson for the Sensible Food Policy Coalition; dietitian and owner of Food Directions; and a former acting undersecretary of food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture

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