Wait Watchers

The much ballyhooed government-industry obesity task force won’t be releasing its report to Congress next week after all.

It has been pushed to September so anxious policymakers will have to wait until then to decide how to proceed in the battle of the bulge.

Seems some of the companies on the industry side of the partnership want first to announce individual policy changes similar to those on nutrition and advertising recently unveiled by Kellogg.

Makes sense for companies to collect some reduced-fat brownie points before the collective pitch to the Hill.

But making folks like Ed Markey wait until September to see the game plan may not be the best move. Markey had already called on the FCC to get into the act, and renewed that call this week when news of the delay came down. Though, ironically, he also called for companies to follow Kellogg’s lead, which is at least part of the reason behind the delay of the report. Another factor is that the task force didn’t even hold its first meeting until March 21–after its Valentines Day (hold the candy jokes) date was snowed out. Members at that meeting had said they would try to meet the mid-July self-imposed deadline, but it seemed a long shot.

Conservative Republican and presidential candidate Sam Brownback was behind the creation of the obesity task force, while liberal Democrat Markey was behind the Children’s Television Act and the V-chip, so there could be something of a turf war over the high-profile issue of kids health and childhood obesity.

Markey has been pushing for government intervention while Brownbach has been saying it was better to join hands than point fingers, or something like that.

But though there methods differ, their aim is similar, and shared by others. Unlike the indecency and violence regulation issues, which are bipartisan on the Hill but draw sharp criticism from industry, there is general agreement that 1) kids are getting too heavy and exercising too little, and that 2) screen time–TV, computers, video games–are part of the problem, as in too much sitting and too many ads for Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Ice Cream Sundae breakfast cereal, as well as part of the solution

Advertisers and marketers are obviously looking for solutions that preserve their profits and rights to truthful commercial speech, but they are also parents and grandparents looking to preserve the next generation.

Nobody is arguing that the government has an interest in protecting children. The One-Hundred-Thousand-Dollar Bar question is how to do it effectively and constitutionally.

Whatever their reasons, food marketers seem to have gotten the message. Now they just need to get that message to Washington before the patience of legislators like Markey and regulators like FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, another force behind the task force, run out.

Speaking of running, let’s all get out there and do a few laps around the water cooler.

By John Eggerton