Efforts to reduce children’s exposure to food marketing date back to at least the 1970s, when CSPI and Action for Children’s Television petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to limit advertising of sugary foods to children. Children’s and health advocates were concerned then about the evidence on how sugary foods decayed children’s teeth. Under pressure from the food, advertising and broadcasting industries, Congress not only halted the FTC’s attempts to address advertising to children, it also stripped the agency’s authority to regulate children’s advertising on the basis of fairness.
Since those early efforts, dramatic increases in childhood obesity — and a deeper understanding of the role of unhealthy food marketing — have propelled concern and action among public health practitioners, researchers, parents, and policy makers. Since the turn of the century, momentum has been building to restrict unhealthy food marketing to children and youth.
This timeline identifies recent milestones in addressing junk food marketing to children and youth and the Food Marketing Workgroup’s role and/or response.
At CSPI’s urging, Congress funds Institute of Medicine study on food marketing to children.
The IOM Committee on Food Marketing to Children and Youth concludes that food and beverage marketing practices reaching children and youth are out of balance with healthful diets and contribute to an environment that puts their health at risk. The IOM’s exhaustive review of the scientific evidence, Food Marketing to Children: Threat or Opportunity?, documents unequivocally that food marketing influences children’s preferences, purchases, diets, and health.
At CSPI’s urging, Congress directs the FTC to conduct a study on food marketing activities and expenditures aimed at children and adolescents.
In response to a request from Congress, the Federal Trade Commission subpoenas 44 food and beverage companies for information on how they market foods and beverages to children.
Senators Harkin and Brownback form the Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity. The group meets for a year and a half, however, concessions industry wanted around marketing and advertising practices were not acceptable to advocates and no recommendations are issued.
In April, CSPI, BMSG, and Children Now convene the first meeting of the Food Marketing Workgroup in Washington, D.C. (with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). About 70 people attend to establish a policy agenda for food and beverage marketing to children.
The Council of the Better Business Bureaus launches the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, an industry self-regulatory program to shift the mix of advertising messaging directed to children under 12 toward healthier dietary choices.
In May, BMSG and the Center for Digital Democracy release “Interactive Food and Beverage Marketing: Targeting Children and Youth in the Digital Age,” and launch digitalads.org, tracking the latest trends in food and beverage marketing.
The Federal Trade Commission releases its report, “Marketing Food to Self Regulation” with crucial insights into the contemporary marketing practices by the food and beverage industry. The FTC found that children are exposed to $2 billion worth of food marketing (including fast food toys) each year, most of which is for low-nutrition food. After nearly two thousand parents complained, prompted by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and other Food Marketing Workgroup members, McDonald’s ended its advertising on report cards in Seminole County, Florida. The report cards promised a free Happy Meal to students with good grades, behavior, or attendance.
At CSPI’s urging, Congress directs the FTC, together with the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Department of Agriculture, to establish the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children. The Working Group is directed to conduct a study and develop recommendations for standards for food marketing to children and determine the scope of the media to which the standards should apply.
The Food Marketing Workgroup meets with the FTC and submits comments to the FTC supporting its proposed follow-up study on expenditures for food marketing to children. The Workgroup recommends the follow-up report include additional data on the nutritional quality of the foods marketed, digital media, target marketing, and demographic breakdowns of target audiences including race and ethnicity.
Several major studies on food marketing to children are released:
- In October, a RWJF-funded study by the Rudd Center at Yale University shows that the least healthful breakfast cereals are the ones most marketed to children.
- In November, CSPI releases a study showing that while the nutritional quality of food and beverage products marketed to children met companies’ own standards, the majority of the products (60%) did not meet a single third-party nutrition standard.
- In December, Children Now releases a study finding that 68% of all advertising to children by companies participating in the Council of the Better Business Bureau’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative were in the lowest category of nutritional quality.
Also in 2009, the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity develops the Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score (FACTS) to document the nutritional quality and marketing of cereals to children.
In December of that year, The Federal Trade Commission holds a workshop on food marketing. The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children releases its draft recommendations on nutrition standards for foods marketed to children. (The final report with recommendations was due to Congress by July 2010, but to date, the draft voluntary standards have not been released for review.)
In January, the Kaiser Family Foundation releases a pivotal study — one of several studies released by KFF since 2003 — documenting current media use trends among older American children and adolescents. The study’s findings include: the average amount of media multi-tasking among children and teens is 7.5 hours daily; mobile media devices are driving the increase in young people’s media use; and multiple forms of electronic media used by children and their families are present within the home.
In February, First Lady Michelle Obama announces the Let’s Move initiative to eliminate child obesity in a generation.
Also in February, the Food Marketing Workgroup submits comments to the Federal Communications Commission in response to the Commission’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) in the matter of Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media Landscape. The Workgroup encourages the Commission to open a rulemaking proceeding to examine what more it can do to address food marketing to children within its current statutory authority.
In March, CSPI releases the results of a study that examines whether food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants and entertainment companies that market food and beverage to children have adopted a policy on marketing. Results show that two-thirds do not have a policy for food marketing to children.
The Food Marketing Workgroup forms a steering committee including organizational members CSPI, BMSG, African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network (AACORN), Center for Digital Democracy, National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), National PTA, The Praxis Project, Prevention Institute, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity and individual members David Britt, retired President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, Ellen Wartella, Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University, and Mary Story, Healthy Eating Research Program and University of Minnesota.
In April, the Workgroup holds its second conference in Washington DC and sponsors Congressional Briefings in the House of Representatives and the Senate on food marketing to children.