Today one in three American children are overweight or obese. Restricting unhealthy food marketing to youth is one important step in addressing this crisis. Corporations spend close to $1.6 billion marketing food to children each year. Kids see unhealthy food marketing on television commercials and product placements, on websites featuring "advergames" based around foods, and even in schools.
Unfortunately much of the food that's marketed to children is terrible for their health: sugary cereals, soda and drinks loaded with sugar and corn syrup, fast food and snacks.
At the request of Congress, the federal government recently proposed best practices for food marketing to children and teenagers. The new proposed guidelines recommend that food and beverages marketed to children have low levels of added sugar, salt, and fat and that they make a "meaningful contribution" to a healthy diet. Public health advocates have praised the guidelines as a useful step in changing the food marketing landscape. Note that the guidelines are not regulations, but recommendations for voluntary action. There are no legal repercussions whatsoever should food companies chose not to follow them.
So, how do some food companies respond when the government suggests voluntary best practices? That perhaps high sugar cereals and desserts branded with children's cartoons aren't the best things to market to children?
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) claims that the standards are needlessly strict. Food industry organizations have protested that some soups, vegetable juices, cereals and yogurts currently marketed to children would not meet the standards, that any ostensibly healthy food would not meet the standards brings into question just how common added fat, sugar, and salt are in processed foods marketed to children.