Open Thread: Should the FDA Control Junk Food Marketing?

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Now that tobacco advertisements have been cut down to size by the U.S. government's Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act (no more color ads for tobacco, audio ads that use music or sound effects, mail-in cigarette coupons etc.), regulators are shifting their attention toward another major American health problem: junk food.

BNET points us toward this document (PDF), which outlines potential nutritional standards for food marketed to children. The document, created by an interagency working group with members from the FTC, FDA, CDC, and USDA, suggests that "foods marketed to children must provide a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet." The working group's document has a fairly strict definition of "meaningful contribution":

Option A:
Food must contain at least 50% by weight of one or more of the following: fruit; vegetable; whole grain; fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt; fish; extra lean meat or poultry; eggs; nuts and seeds; or beans
Option B:
Food must contain one or more of the following per RACC: 0.5 cups fruit or fruit juice 0.6 cups vegetables or vegetable juice 0.75 oz. equivalent of 100% whole grain
0.75 cups milk or yogurt; 1 oz. natural cheese; 1.5 oz. processed cheese
1.4 oz. meat equivalent of fish or extra lean meat or poultry
0.3 cups cooked dry beans 0.7 oz. nuts or seeds
1 egg or egg equivalent

These requirements exclude a lot more than than traditional junk food. Perhaps that's why it's taking so long to finalize the working group's standards--the FTC originally presented them in December 2009, and while the FDA and FTC have both signed off on the standards, the USDA remains mum. We're guessing that the USDA is receiving plenty of pushback from lobbying groups.

But we want to know what you think. Do these requirements make sense, or is the government going too far?

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13 Comments

  • Nunzio Martin

    Steph it comes done to parents being parents PERIOD!! If my daughter wants McDonalds guess what I say NO... hmm novel idea.

  • Steph

    I agree that adult citizens should have control over the food we purchase and consume. But I also think, especially when it comes to minors, that it's not a level, democratic playing field out there. How do we expect parents to compete with a multi-billion dollar industry that teaches their kids to beg for harmful foods? Not to mention, when those kids grow up and out from under their parents' control, what kind of consumers will they have been cultured to become--before they were able to become educated in the economics and health of their choices/desires?

    Like Phil says, preventing the manipulation of minors isn't the same as "steering away" or "limiting" the choices of adults. Allowing a culture of food addiction that targets minors to flourish, driving up our nation's health and productivity costs down the line is irresponsible.

  • Nunzio Martin

    This is by far the stupidest question/article I have read in a long time! Government has no place here at all! I think we all know junk food is bad why else would it be called junk food? But the point is we eat it anyway because we like the taste, so I say stay out of my life if I am not harming anyone but myself.

  • Phil

    The idea that the government should not control junk food marketing is twisted.
    First, the government is the people.
    Secondly, junk food is designed/engineered to hook people. It's based on addiction principles and is filled with additives specifically added to achieve that goal. People don't choose.
    Marketing is just a way to lure people in or to maintain the addiction. Again, people don't choose.

    Most people think they are educated on food but they are not. It takes time and energy to be. And even when they are, it still takes time ad energy to flee from junk food.

    So why private companies should have the right to manipulate people just to make more money, driving the health and the economy of this country down and why the government should be banned to reverse that terrible trend by just giving the tools to the people to choose and get free ?

    Real freedom is to have the choice and that can only be achieved by enforcing strong laws that protect the people against greedy, uncontrollable companies that continuously lie in their ads.

    "We the people" has been replaced by "We the monarchists companies"...

    Marketing from junk food companies is 99% lies. They should only be allowed to say the truth : "it's gonna waste your life".

    And Louann, you really should not pick the meat in the Big Mac : http://www.frictionmagazine.co...

  • Louann Oravec

    What is in junk food should be listed; but as far as limiting it or trying to steer people away from it is wrong. Let everyone choose whether to eat it or not. I have not eaten at McDonald's in ages, but I did not turn down the chocolate milkshake my husband brought home. I would have probably picked the meat out of the Big Mac and thrown the rest away, the fries would have gone into the trash also. But if this is what people choose to eat it is their choice

  • Edward Tierney

    We have allowed corporations to take advantage of the most valuable resource we have, our children. The threats our young people face are incredible (see 2010 Threats to Girlhood at http://blackdogstrategy.com/bl... ).

    Some examples:

    -The Yale Rudd Center has discovered that the least healthy breakfast cereals are the ones that
    are most frequently and most aggressively marketed to children, through all forms of media.

    -8 in 10 foods advertised to children on Nickelodeon are for low nutrition foods.

    -The Center for Science in the Public interest has recently reported that 74% of the food products
    that General Mills advertises to children are of poor nutritional quality.

    -The Rudd Center’s 2009 study found that “Cereals marketed directly to children have 85%
    more sugar, 65% less fiber, and 60% more sodium than cereals marketed to adults for adult
    consumption.

    Corporations have for years been given the opportunity at self-regulation. Despite the overwhelming evidence of growing health and obesity problems, they have chosen to act in their own self interest explicity at the cost of their customers health. Find a case study regarding this here http://www.seriousplayforserio...

    I don't want governmental regulation anymore than is necessary, but if corporations fail to act in the best interest of the public, and it causes direct and obvious harm to people, what should be done? Allow them to skirt the issues and continue producing unhealthy products and promoting them to children who unknowingly fall for marketing tactics designed specifically to overcome any form of resistance or pushback from parents.... simply to sell a bad for you food and put money in share holders pockets? To leave to you and me the legacy of health care costs and a declining level of productivity in a country that continues to fall from its position as a world leader?

    Tomorrow's brands require a complete overhaul. The world is changing and we need to wake up. Brands that ignore this do so at their own peril, see why here http://blackdogstrategy.com/bl...

    Or.... maybe you like what is happening in the Gulf and you are a fan of BP.... its the same thing.

  • Peter Davis

    I agree with Eric. If Hostess is putting jet fuel in Twinkies, it should be disclosed. If we choose to then eat the jet fuel, that's our choice. Some people are gluttons for punishment...

  • Eric Melton

    Definitely prefer Option A since it is easier for the consumer to understand and gives strong support from a balanced diet perspective. The FDA certainly would face a great deal of lobbying from the foods production trade over this issue since it comes in from higher costs to meet standards and just how these standards would be displayed in packaging. I definitely would want to see some prior legal basis rulings before applying standards and of course a round of public hearings. Perhaps a blue ribbon panel of industry & government figures might give the idea additional traction. By the way I've always wondered if you could regulate some foods with the EPA. Take Twinkies and the old fact that some of its components are the same as that of jet fuel! Talk about enhancing your taste and shelf life!

  • Peter Davis

    That's totally ridiculous. How about parents start taking some fricking responsibility for what their kids are putting in their mouths? How about parents pull their kids away from their Playstations and kick their butts outside to get some exercise.

    I am so off the wall tired of this idea that we need more regulation to "protect" people from doing things that are harmful to themselves. I'm all for more transparent labelling on food, but last I checked, we are supposed to be living in a free market. Which means it is not up to any regulatory bodies to decide what is and what is not right, moral or ethical, beyond the bounds of the law.

    I personally don't eat a lot of junk food and I have also educated myself very well on nutrition. I also know that much of what is marketed as healthy is, in fact, not. However, it is my decision. It is perfectly within the rights of food manufacturers to market their Doritos, if they so choose. I may not like it, but then again, I also don't like reality tv. But the first amendment guarantees their right to broadcast their garbage, just as it does my right to not watch it.

    Let's sack up and take some responsibility, people. Do we really want the government to start mandating what can and cannot be marketed? Don't you think that the various agencies, as incredibly inefficient and inept as they are, already interfere in our lives enough?

    It is time for parents to step up, educate themselves and get more involved with their kids lives. This idea that because something is marketed towards you absolves you from 100% responsibility for your own actions is ridiculous, like that family who sued McDonald's for making their kid fat. Give me a break. Attempts at influence are all around, whether you judge that influence bad or good. It's up to each one of us to take responsibility for how we respond to it and how we act. Keep the government out of it.

  • Ronald T Fisher

    I think the Federal Government needs to stay out of our business. It isn't any of their business what I eat,drink or do with my life as long as I am not endangerng some one else by my actions.