By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD Date: 12/18/09
This week I attended the Federal Trade Commission’s public forum “Sizing Up Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity.” A diverse group of experts presented and discussed the effects of marketing to children, from legal analyses of the first amendment, to recent research examining the effects of marketing to kids, and evaluation of self-regulatory initiatives that have been instituted by food and entertainment companies. However, no persons’ words struck me more than the speech given by Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.
In the nutrition world, few government agencies are as important as the HHS, who has joint responsibility (with the United States Department of Agriculture) for developing the science-basis of what constitutes a healthful diet. HHS also oversees the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, among other important government programs. Needless to say, as a registered dietitian, when HHS talks I listen.
Sebelius discussed the role that HHS can play in helping to curb childhood obesity, which she noted was of high priority inside and outside of Washington. Mainly, HHS is addressing this issue by putting TARP money toward programs that aim to reduce rates of obesity in the U.S. Specific to food marketing issues, HHS has identified two key areas to focus its efforts: Labeling and Entertainment.
o Nutrition Facts Panel: When you know how to use the NFP it can be a real compass in the grocery store. The problem is that most people have a hard time finding north on the NFP. FDA is currently in the process of updating the food label to reflect more recent consensus science reports, including new dietary reference intakes, and considering how to make the label a better tool for people to build healthier diets.
o Front of Pack Labeling: HHS recognizes the appeal of easy to understand icons that denote the healthfulness of a product. Now more than ever people are busy and don’t always have time to examine the NFP. With this in mind, HHS/FDA is conducting consumer research on front of package icons with the goal of creating a universal system to drive market innovations and to help people quickly identify healthier choices.
o HHS is involved in an Interagency Working Group (FTC/USDA/HHS) that is proposing tentative nutrition standards for foods that are marketed to kids. These standards will be provided to the public for review and comment before a formal report is provided to congress in July 2010.
In the words of Secretary Sebelius, “there are a lot of other variables that effect health beyond the simple calorie equation,” including access to healthy foods, opportunities to go out and play (and for some in safe neighborhoods), providing time during the school day for kids to be active, and the two Cs are also important: cost and convenience. It may “take an act of congress” before we see action on some of the activities outlined above, but as health professionals we have a role to play in helping families understand how to use the tools, programs, and venues that are available to them to create active, healthy lives.
The International Food Information Council Foundation has developed a Parent’s Guide, which is a companion piece to Kidnetic.com, to help them understand how to role model healthful eating and active living for their children.
Additionally, this Kidnetic.com Bright Paper, Teaching Your Kids About Food Advertising and Marketing, was developed to help parents teach their children about marketing and advertising as well as how to build healthful diets.
What is the key to healthy eating in your house? Share your tips and ideas below.