The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency that regulates food advertising, has just ordered a large group of food companies that make junk foods targeted to children to reveal how much money they are spending on advertising each of their products in general and to children, minorities, and other target groups. The FTC wants specific information about expenditures on marketing through traditional as well as modern kid-friendly channels: TV, radio, and print media, but also company-sponsored and other Internet sites, movie theaters, video games, in-store promotions, premium distributions, product placements, character licensing, sports sponsorships, word-of-mouth and “viral” campaigns, in-school, celebrity endorsements, and philanthropy, among others.
This is an astonishing action by the FTC, an agency that usually promotes food marketing and protects companies’ rights to do so. The last time the FTC tried to do something about the marketing of junk foods to kids–just on television–was in 1979. Then, Congress intervened, fired the head of the FTC, and passed a law allowing such marketing to continue. Well, times have changed in the intervening decades. Even little kids are now overweight and developing type 2 diabetes, reason enough to try to address the problem. At the end of 2005, the Institute of Medicine’s committee examining food marketing to kids complained that companies would not give it “proprietary” information about advertising expenditures or sales. So let’s give the FTC lots of credit for demanding this information and for considering how to put some curbs on the unchecked greed of companies pushing junk foods to kids.