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Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?
(Hawkes, 2002). For this reason the issues often emphasized by industry—sales trends, marketing opportunities, product appeal, advertising exposure, brand awareness, brand recognition, brand loyalty, brand equity, and expanding market share for specific product categories and product brands (Barbour, 2003; Moore et al., 2002; Roberts, 2004)—can also be important issues for healthier and more active lifestyles, including the promotion of healthful foods and beverages, more nutritious diets, more vigorous activity patterns, and healthier weights.
Although food manufacturers and producers have not historically or predominantly viewed their roles and responsibilities in terms of changing consumers’ preferences toward healthier choices, the recent trend toward heavier children and youth—and the broader increased prevalence of obesity-related chronic disease among adults—places a compelling priority on industry’s work with other groups and sectors to play a central role in achieving this goal (IOM, 2005). This is a complex challenge in a marketplace driven by profit margins and market shares. There are encouraging examples of food and beverage companies that are making changes to their product portfolios. However, shifting the proportion of companies’ overall product portfolios from high-calorie and low-nutrient options to more healthful foods and beverages will require substantial change and evaluation of these efforts to understand if they can retain market share for their products (Chapters 4 and 6).
Also complex is the potential use of policy levers to guide marketing practices when it comes to children and youth. Our legal traditions balance the protection of the right to advertise and promote products and ideas through various communication channels with the duty to protect the welfare of children and youth. For example, with increasing understanding of the lifelong and life-threatening consequences of tobacco use, restrictions have been imposed on tobacco advertising and promotion directed to youth. Yet tobacco companies have continued to use an extensive array of marketing communication practices that reach youth. In this case, the compelling state interest in promoting public health by protecting children has generally prevailed over protecting the right to advertise as a form of free speech.
The Federal Trade Commission Case and Beyond
With respect to foods and beverages, Congress has been reluctant to impose mandatory constraints on advertising to children. The illustrative case is a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) exploration through a rulemaking process more than 25 years ago on restricting or banning advertising to young children (Beales, 2004; Elliott et al., 1981; Ratner et al., 1978).
In the late 1970s, consumer groups and members of a concerned American public engaged Congress, industry representatives, and other stake-