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Government's Proposed Kid Food Ad Guidelines Is a Job Killer

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Thanks to proposed new “voluntary guidelines” on what food companies can market to children proposed by a government interagency working group comprised of four federal agencies, Americans could see the economy lose another 74,000 jobs. At a time when the country’s unemployment rate is 9.2% with more than 14 million people out of work, the “voluntary guidelines” of the Interagency Working Group (IWG) Proposal on Food Marketed to Children which are in fact tantamount to mandatory regulations sans judicial review, are job-killers and are not welcome news.

There is no scientific evidence that proves that food ads targeted to kids are the cause of our nation’s escalating childhood obesity problem. Nevertheless, Congress commissioned the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control to “conduct a study and develop recommendations for standards for the marketing of food” to children under 17. In a blatant example of government overreach, the IWG issued “voluntary guidelines” for the food and beverage industry to follow “voluntarily” when marketing products to kids. If certain products manufactured by food companies don’t meet these guidelines, the government would strongly urge companies (code for prohibit) to stop advertising these products to kids through television, the internet, packaging, movies, in –store displays and even schools.

Innovative Healthcare Solutions assessed the potential economic impact of the proposed guidelines and concluded a 20% reduction in food and beverage advertising dollars would result in a “ripple effect in the manufacturing, retail and media industries” leading to the elimination of 74,000 jobs in 2011. It’s simple math. When food companies can’t advertise products like Kix, Cheerios, Chex and Wheaties cereal, and even some soups and yogurts, sales decline, revenue goes down and voila, companies are forced to cut jobs.

As Americans suffer through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, our nation’s government should not hobble the country’s recovery further with proposed guidelines based on intangible emotions rather than scientific facts.

The IWG report emphasizes: “The proposed recommendations are … designed to encourage children, through advertising and marketing, to choose foods that make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet … and minimize consumption of foods with significant amounts of nutrients that could have a negative impact on health or weight – specifically, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and added sugars.” In a foreboding tone, the IWG warns all food products marketed to kids should meet these guidelines by 2016.

What’s ridiculous is that the federal government puts all the blame for America’s swelling childhood obesity rate on the back of the food and beverage industry and kills jobs in the process. Food ads aren’t making kids overweight. There are many contributing factors to obesity, such as lack of exercise, consuming too much fast-food and lack of access to healthy and affordable foods in lower-income and rural communities. To wit, First Lady Michelle Obama with retailers such as Wal Mart and Walgreens to combat food deserts in low-income communities across the nation.

Furthermore, numerous studies show food ads marketed to kids don’t cause childhood obesity. For example, research by Georgetown Economic Services, LLC (GES) found food and beverage ads to kids dropped 50% from 2004-2010 while childhood obesity rates climbed. Previous analysis by GES found TV food and restaurant ads viewed by kids age 2-11 declined from 1993-2004 and concluded “these results cast doubt . . . on the correlations between the volume of commercials and the trend in childhood obesity.”

Even more preposterous, the IWG proclaims, “The proposed principles are voluntary and do not call for government regulation of food marketing.” Still, when four government agencies, who regulate the food industry, ask that industry to do something voluntarily and comply by a specific deadline, it is nothing more than a back door way to issue mandatory regulations over the industry and escape judicial review.

The food industry is already policing itself. Recently, several major food companies came together to announce their own guidelines for marketing healthy food to children. They are moderate, reasonable and still accomplish healthy goals. Responding to demand, companies are continually evaluating ingredients they use in foods not only marketed to kids but adults as well. For example, most cereals today are made with whole grains and fortified with vitamins and minerals. Many juices and dairy products are likewise fortified with vitamins, minerals and supplements. How do companies inform us about these innovations? Through that marketing the IWG seeks to villanize.

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