Spare Kids the Junk Food Ads, Interfaith Group Urges

Spare kids the ads, says an interfaith coalition in a campaign launched Wednesday.

The appeal is targeted toward food and media companies that sell and market candy, fast food and soda at a time when childhood obesity is a national epidemic.

"We need food and media companies to be part of the solution in raising healthy children, not part of the problem," the So We Might See coalition says.

The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years to 17 percent in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate among adolescents aged 12 to 19 more than tripled, increasing to 17.6 percent. Many say advertising has played a role in this.

A child will see 55 commercials for the least nutritious food, compared with only one commercial for highly nutritious food, in ten hours of television programming, the So We Might See coalition cites. Food and beverage companies spend $1.6 billion annually on ads aimed at children, according to a Federal Trade Commission report on food marketing and obesity from 2008.

The influence of the media even has officials from several federal regulatory agencies proposing restrictions on food marketing.

The proposals, drafted at the request of Congress and presented Tuesday, suggest that advertising be limited to foods that provide a "meaningful contribution to a healthful diet."

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz has expressed concerns that the food industry isn't doing enough to limit the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. While some companies, such as McDonald's Corp. and General Mills Inc., have pledged to include healthier foods in their ads, others have yet to make such vows.

"Why, for instance, hasn't YUM! Brands Inc. (YUM), with its KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut chains, stepped up?" Leibowitz said at the forum with industry and public health officials.

The So We Might See coalition also points out that self-regulation isn't widely successful and even among companies that do participate in shifting their ads to include healthier foods, each company adopts its own nutrition standards.

The coalition calls for the adoption of a single, independent nutrition standard. It also urges media companies that create programs for children to refuse to accept advertisements for food that fails to meet minimum nutritional requirements.

"Today we are raising the first generation of children not expected to live as long as their parents. We are in urgent need of partners to help us raise healthy children," states the coalition along with signers of a petition.

So We Might See is an ecumenical, interfaith coalition that educates and advocates for media justice. "Spare kids the ads" is the fourth campaign the coalition has launched.