Most Food & Entertainment Companies Get Failing Grade for Policies on Marketing Food to Children

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Most Food & Entertainment Companies Get Failing Grade for Policies on Marketing Food to Children

Few Have Any Policies in Place at All, According to CSPI Report Card

WASHINGTON - Most food and entertainment companies have received Fs from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, which today issued a report card
that rates 128 companies' policies with regard to food marketing aimed
at children. Three-quarters of companies are getting an F, either for
having weak policies or for failing to have any policies whatsoever.

CSPI's highest grade, a B+, went to Mars, Inc.,
though the group emphasized that the grade is not for the foods Mars
sells, but rather for its policy on marketing to children. Mars' policy
excludes marketing to children
under 12 and covers most of the key marketing tactics used to reach
children. The entertainment company given CSPI's highest grade, a B, is
Qubo, a family-friendly children's television channel delivered
nationwide over ION Media Networks 59 local digital television
stations. Qubo's policy is comprehensive, applying reasonably good
nutrition standards to its full range of programming, according to CSPI.

One
food company (Procter & Gamble, which makes Pringles) received a B,
six got a B-, 17 got a C, and 7 a D. Ninety-five companies received an
F.

"Despite
the industry's self-regulatory system, the vast majority of food and
entertainment companies have no protections in place for children,"
said CSPI nutrition policy
director Margo G. Wootan. "If companies were marketing bananas and
broccoli, we wouldn't be concerned. But instead, most of the marketing
is for sugary cereals, fast food, snack foods, and candy. And this junk
food marketing is a major contributor to childhood obesity."

According to the Institute of Medicine, TV
commercials affect children's food choices, food purchase requests,
diets, and health. And the mere act of watching commercial television
is linked to obesity

CSPI gave restaurant chain Denny's an F for marketing
to children through its children's menu, which includes many
nutritionally poor items; games on its Web site; and a kid's birthday
club. Lucasfilms received an F for not having a policy. Presently,
Lucasfilms is licensing Star Wars toys as a premium to go with
McDonald's Happy Meals, many of which are nutritionally poor. Candy
company Topps also got an F. That company makes, among other things,
Baby Bottle Pop, a powdered candy sold in a miniature baby bottle,
eaten by dipping a candy nipple in a sugary powder and licking it off.
Over the years Topps has retained the services of the Jonas Brothers
and Clique Girlz singing groups to convince children to purchase that
infantilizing product, whose 140 calories all come from sugar.

Companies spend about $2 billion each year marketing
foods and beverages to children. Food manufacturers and restaurants
more often had policies for television, radio, print, Internet, and
product placement than for digital marketing, like cell phones, iPods,
and social networks, characters, games, and contests on food packages,
toy give-aways with children's meals at fast-food restaurants, or
branded marketing programs for schools. Half of the entertainment
companies with policies, like the Cartoon Network, apply nutrition
standards to the licensing of their characters, but few have policies
for their television advertising or Web site, which are the primary
ways they market to children.

In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus announced a self-regulatory program called the Childrens Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.
Sixteen major food and restaurant companies, representing about 80
percent of television food advertising expenditures, have joined the
program and announced that they will not market foods to children under
12 that don't meet companies' individual nutritional standards. But
those standards often are carefully tailored and still allow a
considerable volume of junk-food advertising to reach young kids,
according to CSPI. The group's analysis of advertising on Nickelodeon, conducted in November, found that 80 percent of food ads on the popular children's network were for junk food.

While
64 percent of food manufacturers that advertise to children have
marketing policies, only 24 percent of restaurants and 22 percent of
entertainment companies do. For Qubo's part, the company says its
nutrition policy reinforces an overall message about healthy living and
providing children with the foundations for self-esteem that the
company promotes in popular kids' programs such as Turbo Dogs, Willa's
Wild Life and Babar.

"Shortly after the launch of the Qubo kids' channel
in 2007, we established very stringent nutritional guidelines for
advertising only healthy foods to children," said Brandon Burgess,
chairman and CEO of ION Media Networks, the parent company of the Qubo
Channel. "We were responding to the alarming increase in childhood
obesity and the seminal work established by the FCC's Task Force on
Media and Childhood Obesity. Then and now, we were happy to work with
policymakers, CSPI, and our industry colleagues to fight childhood
obesity and provide children with important educational building blocks
in making healthy lifestyle choices."

In the next few weeks, the Federal Trade Commission
together with other federal agencies is expected to propose a set of
nutrition criteria and other standards for foods marketed to children
that, when finalized in July, the agency hopes companies will adopt on
a voluntary basis.

"If food, toy, and media companies fail to adopt
those voluntary standards, they will be clanging the death knell for
their self-regulatory initiative and inviting strong government
involvement in food marketing aimed at kids," Wootan said.

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Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science.

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