American Society of Magazine Editors

MPA Submits Comments on Food Marketed to Children

Created by a 2009 act of Congress, in April, the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, comprised of the FTC, CDC, FDA, and USDA, released their “preliminary proposed nutrition principles to guide self-regulatory efforts.” The Working Group was directed by Congress to “conduct a study and develop recommendations for standards for the marketing of food when such marketing targets children who are 17 years old or younger or when the food represents a significant component of the diets of children.”

Though they did not complete the study as directed, the Working Group did release a set of recommendations in the form of “voluntary principles,” which contains two components. One is a pair of nutrition principles to “guide” industry on what foods should be advertised. The other is a set of restrictions on how foods may be marketed — including the establishment of audience share thresholds that dictate whether a particular media outlet would be considered targeted to children. For print media, magazines with a readership exceeding 30% for children age 2-11 and 20% for adolescents age 12-17 would only be allowed to advertise food that met the extremely restrictive nutrition principles the report proposes.

In our comments, MPA highlighted the First Amendment failings of the principles, stemming from the overly restrictive requirements of the principles and the inadequate policy basis for creating them. In particular, we raised concerns with regard to magazines that are targeted to older adolescents and young adults and suggested the principles were not sufficiently narrow enough to pass First Amendment muster. We also highlighted the economic impact on publishers of being forced to comply with over-burdensome regulations. The Working Group will now review the hundreds of comments they received on the matter before proceeding forward. In addition to their review, there is also an effort afoot to address the situation legislatively that will continue into the fall.