Prompted by concern about the increase in childhood obesity, Congress asked the FTC to study food and beverage marketing to children and adolescents. On July 29, the FTC published its report, Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents: A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation. The report is the latest in a series of efforts by Congress and the FTC to pressure various industries to modify marketing practices through the use of the FTC’s investigatory authority and publicity where the prospects of a successful Section 5 challenge are dim.
The FTC did not suggest that any current marketing practice are deceptive, misleading, or unfair. Instead, the FTC’s recommendations focused on strengthening self-regulatory efforts in the food and beverage industry and the media and entertainment industry. In the food and beverage industry, the FTC recommended that all companies join the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ (CBBB) Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. The FTC goes on to recommend that the Initiative closely monitor compliance and implement the following improvements:
- Expand the scope of “advertising to children” to include not just traditional media, but all advertising and promotional techniques, such as cross-promotion, in-store advertising, sweepstakes, packaging, and the Internet.
- Require that 100% of food advertising directed to children under 12 promote healthy dietary choices.
- Standardize the nutrition criteria for “healthy dietary choices” that may be marketed to children
- Work toward developing meaningful standardized definitions for what constitutes advertising “directed to children under 12.”
- Require that participating companies not engage in product placement in media directed to those under age 12.
With respect to media and entertainment companies, the FTC recommends companies limit licensing of characters used in marketing to children to healthier foods and beverages so that cross-promotions involving movie and television characters will promote more nutritious foods and drinks. The FTC also recommended that companies work with CBBB to set up their own self-regulatory program.
Click here for a more in-depth discussion of the FTC’s report.