For those who think First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign against childhood obesity is Exhibit A in big government overreaching into family life, here's another campaign that will get their dander up (if not their blood pressure).
Four federal agencies-the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Agriculture-have linked their bureaucratic arms to target manufacturers who target kids with tantalizing ads for terribly unhealthy foods.
Yesterday, the Fab Food Four (more boringly referred to as an Interagency Working Group on nutrition) announced that they've come up with some basic principles for the food industry that would a) improve the nutritional value of foods being directly marketed to the 2-17 set and b) reduce the excessive amounts of sugar, salt and fats in those foods.
The catch? These laudable principles are voluntary, dependant on the makers of such kid favorites as McDonald's Happy Meals (which of course can no longer include toys here in San Francisco).
But even this is a "big step in the right direction," according to Juliet Sims of the Prevention Institute, an Oakland nonprofit food policy group. "They are voluntary, but up until now its been the wild west for companies." The current system of regulating advertising of foods to kids is run by the Better Business Bureau and it allows food and beverage makers to set their own nutrition standards and market to kids over a certain age. But the new government plan, she said, creates a level playing field, so that all companies that abide by the rules will keep fats, sugar and sodium to specific levels for all products.
The Times has a good story in today's paper about the new regs, with a comparison of Tucan Sam, the mascot for Froot Loops and Joe Camel, whose tenure selling cigarettes to young people was brought to a halt by anti-smoking types.
Sims notes that companies will have to put real fruit and vegetables into their products--if they choose to follow the system. But some childhood staples may be beyond redemption.
"Froot Loops sadly will not make the cut if Kellog's decides to adopt the rules," she opined.