Obesity Task Force Aims for July Deadline


The chairman of the Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity said on Wednesday that the group planned to report back to Congress and the FCC in mid July with recommendations for attacking the growing health crisis of childhood obesity.

The first meeting of the task force, which was postponed from February 14 because of weather, was the idea of either Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) or FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. Both  gave the other the credit for the idea.

Brownback said the first and last meeting would be public, and there would be private meetings in between to hash out ideas and best practices.

Task Force Chairman Gary Knell of Sesame Workshop said that the goal was not to have a food fight, but to jointly issue a "declaration" on how to attack the problem, come up with an "inventory" of best practices that can be shared, and announce joint collaborations.

The FCC commissioners in attendance, which included Deborah Taylor Tate and Michael Copps, were in agreement that the industry had taken steps to address the problem, but that more needed to be done. Copps and Martin emphasized that the result of the task force should be action, not the conclusion that there was a problem or that people needed to be education.

That was already a given they said, seconded by most of the attendees, which included activists, educators and media members including from Disney, Discovery, Food Network, MTV, and Telemundo.

Senator Sam Brownback said the time for finger pointing on the issue of childhood obesity was over. It's time for action, he said. While he conceded a July deadline was aggressive, but that it needed to be given the health crisis.

While one of the themes of the meeting was collegiality, Dan Jaffe, EVP of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers, took the opportunity to point a finger at government. He said that while the industry had done a lot already to address the problem, like revamping its self-regulations and spending billions on education and engineering marketing to emphasize more healthy foods, they had not done enoug and response had not been uniform across all sectors. He said that government had reduced or eliminated physical education programs and had not provided sufficient funding for nutrition education.

He said he hoped one of the results of the task force would be for government to step up and restore those programs.

Asked after the meeting whether there was any connection between the effort to give parents more help in controling their kids diet and his push for the industry's help in controlling their media diet, Martin said there was not a direct one. "What I see is that in both instances, I've been trying to encourage industry to take action on their own to try to address concerns that parents have about the media. Whenever we can encourage the industry to take action on their own that's preferable to government regulation. But I also think the government has the responsibilty to provide parents the tools to control the media in their homes and have legitimate concern about the impact the media have."