The FTC is involved in helping to prevent childhood obesity in several ways, including public education and the enforcement of regulations, said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. In his presentation, Vladeck focused on two major initiatives—one directed at food marketing and the other at nutritional standards.

In 2008 the FTC released a groundbreaking report on food and beverage marketing to children based on 2006 data (FTC, 2008). Previously, no government agency had been able to document as thoroughly and precisely the dollars spent on the wide array of marketing techniques being used to promote foods and beverages to children. By using its powers of compulsory process, which give the agency the legal authority to compel the provision of certain kinds of information, the FTC was able to amass an unprecedented data set on these techniques. Based on these data, the FTC made several key recommendations:

  • All food and beverage companies should adopt and adhere to meaningful nutrition-based standards for marketing their products to children under 12.
  • These nutrition-based standards should not apply just to television, radio, print, and Internet advertising but cover the full range of marketing activities directed at children, including packaging and in-store promotions.
  • All companies should cease in-school marketing and promotion of foods and beverages that fail to meet meaningful nutritional standards.
  • Media and entertainment companies should institute their own self-regulatory programs.

In its study, the FTC did not address the question of whether there is a link between food marketing to children and childhood obesity rates. However, in a comprehensive survey of the then-available research on the relationship between food advertising on television and requests for, preferences for, and consumption of the advertised products by children and adolescents, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that there is strong evidence that television advertising influences food and beverage requests, preferences, and short-term consumption by children aged 2 to 11 (IOM, 2006). The evidence with respect to adolescents and to a relationship with long-term consumption patterns was not as strong. The IOM study did not draw a conclusion about the causal relationship between television advertising and adiposity in children and adolescents, although the two are clearly associated, said Vladeck. He noted that additional research has occurred

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