As part of a lawsuit settlement last week, Kellogg announced that in any medium that has a large audience of children under age 12, it would market only foods that meet new nutritional criteria. The marketer also went beyond rivals' initiatives, saying it would alter product ingredients to meet minimum health standards or quit advertising them to children.
Investigating impact of ads
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., in letters to five of Kellogg's competitors, told those companies to implement similar limits, and announced new plans for a House hearing on the issue. Mr. Markey, who chairs the telecom panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said his panel's hearing this Friday on the impact of violent and tobacco-smoking images children see on TV will now also look at repercussions of the food ads children view.
The letters ask the companies to respond by June 29.
Mr. Markey cited a report from the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine that said marketing could have an effect on food choices. "I am concerned that the prevalence of advertisements on children's television for junk food, fast food and other foods wholly lacking in nutritional value is one of the root causes of America's childhood obesity epidemic," Mr. Markey wrote in the letters.
"I would like to know whether your company will commit to implementing the same marketing restrictions Kellogg has announced. Such information may inform the subcommittee and the public as to additional steps that may be warranted to safeguard kids from junk-food ads during children's television programming."
An aide to the congressman said the five companies were selected because of their extensive use of marketing to kids. At press time, a witness list for this week's hearing wasn't yet available.
Could bring in FCC
In an April 16 letter to several Federal Communications Commission commissioners, Mr. Markey said the FCC would need to play a more active role in limiting food advertising on kids' shows if marketers don't act voluntarily.
"There is no question that the commission has both the affirmative obligation and the statutory authority to examine whether placing limitations on certain food advertising to children would further the public interest," he wrote then. "If a 'core' educational program tells children to eat healthy foods and exercise, but the advertisements aired during the program encourage them to eat Twinkies and Fruit Loops, the ads have the potential to undercut the educational and informational value of the program."