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A boy snacks on caramel corn while watching television in this stock photo.

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Sanders, Booker, and Welch Unveil Ban on Junk Food Ads Targeting Kids

"We cannot continue to allow large corporations in the food and beverage industry to put their profits over the health and wellbeing of our children," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

A trio of U.S. senators on Friday introduced what's being billed as first-of-its-kind legislation sponsors say will "take on the greed of the food and beverage industry and address the growing diabetes and obesity epidemics" with a federal ban on junk food ads targeting children.

The Childhood Diabetes Reduction Act—introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.)—would also require warning labels "on sugar-sweetened foods and beverages; foods and beverages containing non-sugar sweeteners; ultra-processed foods; and foods high in nutrients of concern, such as added sugar, saturated fat, or sodium."

"Let's be clear: The twin crises of type 2 diabetes and obesity in America are being fueled by the food and beverage industry that, for decades, has been making massive profits by enticing children to consume unhealthy products purposely designed to be overeaten," Sanders—who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee—said in a statement. "We cannot continue to allow large corporations in the food and beverage industry to put their profits over the health and wellbeing of our children."

"Nearly 30 years ago, Congress had the courage to take on the tobacco industry, whose products killed more than 400,000 Americans every year," Sanders added. "Now is the time for Congress to act with the same sense of urgency to combat these diabetes and obesity epidemics. That means banning junk food ads targeted to kids and putting strong warning labels on food and beverages with unacceptably high levels of sugar, salt, and saturated fat."

Booker said that "the future of our nation depends on a continued investment in the health and wellbeing of our children," adding that "more and more of our children are developing diabetes and obesity primarily because a handful of corporate food giants push addictive, ultra-processed foods to drive up their profits."

"By banning junk food advertising to children, implementing front-of-package warning labels, and funding research on the dangers of ultra-processed foods, we can rein in the predatory behavior of big food companies and ensure a healthier future for generations to come," he added.

As the senators noted:

Today, more than 35 million Americans are struggling with type 2 diabetes—90% of whom are overweight or obese. These crises go hand-in-hand and children are severely impacted. Today, 1 out of 5 five kids are living with obesity. A serious illness unto itself, diabetes is also a contributing factor to heart disease, stroke, amputations, blindness, and kidney failure. Unless the U.S. dramatically changes course, these numbers will continue to grow exponentially.

The impact on the economy is enormous: Last year, the total cost of diabetes exceeded $400 billion, approximately 10% of overall U.S. healthcare expenditures.

Meanwhile, the U.S. food and beverage industry spends about $14 billion annually on marketing unhealthy products, with $2 billion of that spent on advertising these products to children.

"Our food environment has become dominated by ultra-processed foods that have more in common with a cigarette than a fruit or vegetable," said Ashley Gearhardt, director of the Food and Addiction Science & Treatment Lab at the University of Michigan. "Many ultra-processed foods are hyperpalatable and trigger the core signs of addiction, like intense cravings and a loss of control over intake."

"The American public is not adequately warned about the risks associated with these products and children are a key marketing demographic for ultra-processed foods with unhealthy nutrient profiles," Gearhardt added. "The Childhood Diabetes Reduction Act is a courageous step towards promoting the physical and mental health of American children."

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