Pediatricians Demand Cuts in Children-Targeted Advertising

Doctors' Group Asks Federal Government to Impose Severe Limits

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WASHINGTON ( -- "It's as dangerous for pediatricians to make recommendations about advertising as for me to write a prescription for a child's ear infection," said Dick O'Brien of the American

The food-marketing wars are being ratcheted up a notch by the latest condemnation of children-targeted advertising by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Association of Advertising Agencies, reacting to the latest attack on advertising to kids, this one from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Severe limits
In the policy statement, which is published in the journal Pediatrics today, the 65,000-member group eviscerates TV ads targeting children and asks Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to impose severe and wide-reaching limits. The group is demanding that TV ads on kids' shows be halved and that junk-food ads be banned during shows viewed predominately by those under age 8. It is also requesting that alcohol ads be limited to product pictures and text and erectile-dysfunction ads be limited to after 10 p.m.

While other groups have offered some similar proposals before, the Congressional turnover in January could boost the policy's impact. Even likely allies doubt the proposal has much of a chance. "The Democrats are seriously concerned about public health and interested in using government to protect kids where the Republicans weren't," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Still, he said cutting the number of ads on kids' shows and the new limit on alcohol ads are unlikely to pass congressional muster.

Dr. Don Shifrin, chair of AAP's communications committee, acknowledged that getting the recommendations implemented may be hard. "We would like someone to pay attention to this. We think if we knock on the door enough times, sooner or later someone will answer."

Advertising's impact
"Advertising has an impact on many of the most crucial areas of child development -- smoking, sex and obesity," said Dr. Victor C. Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and the paper's lead author. "If we are concerned about those issues, we need to take a hard look at the advertising."

He said the policy updated one crafted 11 years ago and is aimed widely.

"We hope to alert pediatricians and parents to the current problems and to effect some changes," he said.

The group also urged Congress to convene a national task force to "propose solutions toward limiting children's exposure to unhealthy advertising." Tobacco also came under fire with a request for a complete ban on tobacco ads. It said pediatricians shouldn't have magazines available for patients that include alcohol or tobacco ads. And while the group calls for limits on ED ads, it also suggests that TV networks do more to offer contraceptive ads.

Ad groups reject recommendations
Advertising groups, of course, rejected the recommendations. Though Mr. O'Brien seemed dismissive of the proposals, he warned they could have an impact. "Critics will seize upon this as just another piece of ammunition."

Others accused the proposals of being off-base and redundant.

Beer Institute President Jeff Becker decried the alcohol proposal, saying, "The key to preventing illegal underage drinking is preventing youth access to alcohol, not restrictive measures or censorship." He said beer ads only appear on programming where 70% of the audience is 21 or older.

A spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said its year-old ad policy already restricts ED ads to programming where 80% of the audience is adult.

He termed the statement "particularly weak," saying it failed to take account of changes already made by marketers. He also said the recommendations are based on kids seeing 40,000 ads per year on TV, when the Federal Trade Commission has said the real number is half that.

Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers, called some of the proposals "overbroad."

"Some of the proposals Congress could act on, but [they] would never pass Constitutional muster," he said.
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