WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a bid to tackle rising youth obesity, U.S. companies would be prohibited from advertising to children foods that contain large amounts of sugar or salt, or even low levels of trans fats, under a proposal released on Tuesday by a working group from several U.S. agencies.
The working group made up of members of the Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control issued what it called tentative proposed standards for food marketed to children, defined as up to age 17.
Those foods could not have more than 1 gram of saturated fat per serving, 13 grams of added sugar, 200 milligrams of sodium or 0 trans fats, which they defined as more than half a gram, per normal serving.
At a related conference to discuss food advertising and any link it might have to obesity among children, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said that if the obesity-related health risks — high blood pressure and diabetes among them — were caused by radiation “alarm bells would be going off across America. There would be a huge outcry.”
Sebelius, who also admitted to a weakness for Cheetos, said that it was important for any changes in advertising rules to be across the board so that companies that eliminate child-oriented ads for unhealthy foods were not punished for it.
“We need to start doing a better job of regulating the types of ads our children see,” she added.
Some food manufacturers have already reformulated some kid favorites to take health concerns into account. Kellogg, which makes Froot Loops, and General Mills, maker of Cocoa Puffs, have both said they would reduce the amount of sugar in some food advertised to children.
The chairman of the FTC, Jon Leibowitz, noted these and other steps forward.
“These changes have come in small increments,” said Leibowitz. “Put simply, it is time for industry to supersize its efforts.”
Dan Jaffe, executive vice president for government relations at the Association of National Advertisers, argued that advertisers were not to blame for the growing number of fat children and any restrictions on ads could run afoul of the First Amendment.
“The advertising community faces a real clear and growing threat of censorship,” he said.
Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Matthew Lewis