Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has called on broadcasters, the food industry and others to self-regulate food advertising to children. If not, he is introducing bills to make them.
“The current industry efforts are woefully inadequate,” said Harkin. “I sincerely hope that the industry will develop tough and effective marketing guidelines, but when private interests work against the public good like this, government is obliged to act.”
And just to make sure, he is also introducing legislation that would give the FTC express authority to regulate "junk food" advertising to kids under 18, as well as one that would prohibit junk food advertising in schools.
Dan Jaffee, EVP of the Association of National Advertisers, counters that the FTC already has authority to regulate children's ads as deceptive or unfair. "It isn't about a lack of FTC authority," he says, suggesting that is just a red herring.
The problem of childhood obesity is real, says Jaffee, but it is about bad diet, not bad foods.
Harkin says that parents' diet decisions are being undermined by junk food ads. “Although parents may want their kids to eat healthy, they often lose out because Sponge Bob Square Pants, Shrek, and cartoon superheroes entice kids to eat fast food and sugary snacks. The childhood obesity epidemic is real, and the time to act is now.”
Jaffe couldn't predict how much traction the bills would get, but pledged to get out the message that, far from saying "no, no, no" when faced with the obesity problem, the food industry has said "yes" to healthier, low-calorie alternatives.