F as in fatter or food industry?

2011-07-08T13:07:00Z 2012-03-02T14:46:56Z F as in fatter or food industry?BY GEORGINA GUSTIN • ggustin@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8195 stltoday.com

A group called the Sensible Food Policy Coalition said Friday that government guidelines aimed at restricting the marketing of junk food to children would kill thousands of food industry jobs.

The coalition, whose members include PepsiCo, General Mills, Kellogg's, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and Time Warner, enlisted IHS Global Insight to conduct a study looking at the impact of marketing guidelines released in April by a federal working group.  The IHS report, released Friday, found that the guidelines, if adopted, would lead to a 20 percent reduction in advertising expenditures and a loss of $28.3 billion in revenue, translating to 74,000 jobs. (PDF of report is at left.)

"The last thing American families and the US economy needs is more jobs at risk from misguided government action," said Dan Jaffe, of the Association of National Advertisers and a coalition spokesman.

The voluntary guidelines, issued in April, were developed by the Obama administration's Interagency Working Group, comprised of four federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (PDF of guidelines at left.)  The group, formed in 2009,  was charged with addressing rising childhood obesity rates by recommending changes in how food companies advertise their products to kids. 

In 2006, major food and drink manufacturers formed a group to scrutinize their own marketing practices.  But Congress and the Obama administration thought this self-policing approach wasn't going far enough. 

That same year, according to a Federal Trade Commission report, the food industry spent $1.6 billion advertising food to kids and teenagers that was high in calories and low in nutrition.  Most of the money was spent by makers of sodas and cereals, as well as fast food chains.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based nutrition advocacy group, also agreed that the industry wasn't doing a very good job regulating its own ads to kids.  One of the center's studies found that ads on Nickelodeon for foods of "low nutritional quality" fell from 88 percent to 79 percent between 2005 and 2009.

On Friday, the center said the Sensible Food Policy Coalition -- which includes Viacom, Nickelodeon's owner -- should be "ashamed of itself."

"We've come to expect tantrums from the food industry when laws or binding regulations might impact the way it does business," the center said in a press release. "But it's a shame the industry is using such overheated rhetoric to fight reasonable, voluntary nutrition guidelines aimed at reducing kids' risk of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases."

This week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report showing that obesity rates continue to rise. 

The report, called "F as in Fat,"  says that Missouri is now among 12 states with obesity rates above 30 percent.  Missourians weighed in at 30.3 percent obese, while last year they slipped under the 30-percent mark at 29.3 percent.  Nearly 14 percent of the state's children are obese.

The state's overall increase -- albeit by just one percent -- mirrored the general trend nationwide, the report said.  Over the past year, 16 states grew fatter. Just two decades ago, not a single state had an obesity rate of more than 15 percent.

The nation's fattest states are in the south, and the nation's fattest people are more likely to be black or poor.

The report listed a handful of recommendations for stemming the rise in obesity rates.  One of them?

"...Industry should adopt strong, consistent standards for food marketing similar to those proposed in April 2011 by the Interagency Working Group..."

Read more from Georgina Gustin, who covers food, agriculture and biotech for the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @georgina_gustin and the Business section @postdispatchbiz.

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