Congress weighs $125 mil ad effort

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Congress returns to Washington this week for an unusual lame-duck session that could include one boon for advertising agencies: a new, more than $100 million national ad campaign to change children's health behavior.

The campaign is the personal idea of U.S. Rep. John Porter, R., Ill., and is recommended by the House Appropriations Committee panel he chairs. It's included in a labor and health appropriations bill approved by the House last summer, but approval has been held up since then by a dispute on unrelated parts of the legislation. The Senate version of the measure has no similar appropriations for an ad campaign.

As proposed by Rep. Porter and approved by the House, Congress would provide $125 million for the effort, most of it for advertising.


The bill says that the effort, to be overseen by the Centers for Disease Control, would "communicate messages that will help kids develop habits that foster good health over a lifetime, including diet, physical activity and avoidance of illicit drugs, tobacco and alcohol." Rep. Porter said he proposed the program to deal with a broader range of child issues than the ad campaign the White House runs about drugs.

"I have been very concerned that as our knowledge base increases, we are not seeing that transferred into changed practices or habits," he said. "We absolutely know that obesity is a huge risk factor, yet at the same time, the American people are more obese and childhood obesity has doubled, causing problems with diabetes and heart disease.

"One way to save us from developing bad habits is an initiative to try to influence children and parents in a positive direction. I hope that we can begin to turn around the risk factors for kids. If you can prevent obesity, if you can encourage exercise, no use of tobacco, you can save hundreds of billions of dollars of health care costs."


The Centers for Disease Control would work on the campaign with several other government agencies including the National Center for Child Health and Human Development and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Though establishment of the campaign appears to be generating little controversy, the appropriations bill-which includes money for the Department of Health and Human Services-was continuing to generate controversy on other issues last week.

There was no clear indication last week if House and Senate negotiators could reach agreement on its passage or would instead again approve temporary funding for Health and Human Services and put off the bill until the next Congress. With Rep. Porter retiring in January, a delay could be fatal to plans for the ad campaign.

A Centers for Disease Control official said his agency wouldn't begin to plan for the campaign until Congress approved the money. The agency has taken no action to start looking at ad agencies.

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