by Marion Nestle
Oct 12 2011

House holds hearings on nutrition standards for food marketing to kids

Reports are coming in on the House hearings on the IWG report recommendations.  The IWG, recall from the previous post, is an Interagency Working Group of four federal agencies attempting to set nutrition standards for foods allowed to be marketed to kids.

This first report comes from Broadcasting & Cable:

The first panel of a joint hearing Wednesday on government-proposed food marketing guidelines featured government officials explaining that the principles, announced last April, are only voluntary recommendations to Congress that industry can ignore if they chose, while legislators, primarily Republicans, countering that they represent Big Brother government intruding into meal planning for families and a focus on marketing, without scientific backing, rather than focusing on more physical activity.

Republican lawmakers, it seems, want more science.  That’s always step one in undermining public health proposals: attack the science.  Subsequent steps, you may recall, include attacking critics, focusing on physical activity, and blaming personal responsibility for obesity and its consequences.

According to Healthwatch, Representative Henry Waxman (Dem-Calif)

Compared Republican defenders of unbridled food marketing to children to past champions of the tobacco industry. [He]  drew parallels between Wednesday’s hearing on proposed voluntary marketing restrictions and a 2003 hearing during which some Republicans promoted the safety of smokeless tobacco.

“I just find this an amazing hearing,” Waxman said. “The only thing I can analogize it to is after all the tobacco issues we discussed for many years, Republicans took charge and we never heard anything more about tobacco. Then, suddenly we had a hearing about tobacco.

And the hearing was about how smokeless tobacco should be encouraged as a way for smokers to give up smoking. It was geared to promoting an industry that no doubt supported financially many of the members. I wonder if this hearing is about the same subject.”

What I find most disturbing is the FTC’s backing down on the recommendations which were agreed upon by four federal agencies and voluntary.  CNN reports that David Vladeck, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:

The coalition of government agencies is “in the midst of making significant revisions” to the original proposal.

Among the changes he suggested are narrowing the age group targeted and focusing on children aged 2 to 11 instead of up to age 17 and allowing marketing of the unhealthier foods at fundraisers and sporting events.

Vladeck also said that his agency would not recommend that companies change packaging or remove brand characters from food products that don’t qualify, as was originally suggested in the guidelines.

“Those elements of packaging, though appealing to children, are also elements of marketing to a broader audience and are inextricably linked to the food’s brand identity,” Vladeck said at the hearing.

This, as I keep pointing out, is about protecting corporate health at the expense of children’s health.


  • Mila

    Beyond sad. Today my 5th grade daughter came home from (her San Francisco public elementary) school talking about the “Farm Day” they had (sponsored, as it turned out, by “The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom” and complete with a cow brought in the school yard). Of course, I am all for it – I buy my produce from a local organic farm, so I was excited to hear about it, imagining all the great information she learned. That excitement turned into sadness and upset when she handed me the only materials they sent home with her – two kid-targeted, colorful, filled with puzzles brochures on beef, publications by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the California Beef Council – “Basics about Beef”, and “Power Up with Lean Beef!” Oh, the marketing nirvana found inside! I happen to be reading your “Food Politics” book at the moment, and today’s blatant beef promotion has made me so very upset. Not only that, but the following quotes from the “Basics about Beef” in themselves, virtually equating the nutritional value of beef (ok, “lean beef”) to chocolate and olive oil:

    “Lean beef has a beneficial fatty acid profile. On average, 33 percent of the saturated fat in beef is steric acid (the same fat found in chocolate that has been recognized for its health benefits) – and more than 50 percent of the remaining fatty acids in beef are monounsaturated, the same heart-healthy kind found in olive oil.”

    I am not worried about my daughter’s education in that respect, as she is more aware on where her food comes from and what it contains than many of her peers. I am worried and angry about the influence of such marketing on same peers, some of whom have turned in front of my eyes into overweight 5th graders since we started kindergarten together. Of course, there has been great progress done in school lunch reform (you have to start hacking at the monster somewhere), but there is still so much more to do, never enough.

    Thank you so very much for all your efforts!

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