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Alliance for American Advertising Addresses Obesity Challenges

  • Over the course of this year, there has been an increase in attacks on advertising and marketing that some quarters see as contributing to the problem of obesity. Obesity has been identified as the second leading pre ventable cause of death in the United States by the U.S. Surgeon General, which has become a rally ing cry for those seek to blame advertising for the rise in obesity rates, especially for children. This point of view has led to unprece dented attacks on food company advertising from the child protec tion angle. Groups including the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and the American Psychological Association (APA) have been highly critical of the mar keting of food to children. And in the past few months, these attacks on advertising have increasingly spread to other media beyond television.
  • This has particular significance for the marketing at-retail industry. As the Federal Trade Commission/Department of Health and Human Services (FTC/HHS) joint workshop report states:
  • It has been estimated that, because of children's impact on purchasing behavior, the food industry spent $10 to $12 billion in 2002 to reach them.
  • Food companies engage in promotional spending to draw the attention of their customers, includ-ing children, to specific products in the grocery store. For instance, food companies often pay a premium to grocery stores or other retailers to have their products placed on lower shelves, end-caps, or at check-out— all locations accessible to children. ("Perspectives on Marketing Self-regulation, & Childhood Obesity," FTC/HHS, April 2006, p. 6)
  • The Alliance for American Advertising (the Alliance) was created to help unify the voice of the food manufacturing and food advertising industries during this public debate over food marketing and childhood obesity. It is one part of the communi-
  • ty's effort to address the reactions to public concern over the health and welfare of our children. It is in the interest of all segments of the advertising community that we work together to promote healthy lifestyles and improved nutrition while protecting the rights we all share.
  • The Alliance has been working with our member companies and associations to accomplish a number of important objectives. Here are just a few:
  • Designed and supervised focus groups by KRC research. The Alliance recognized early that it was important to know how parents and consumers view children's food advertising and its relationship to obesity. We designed and oversaw focus groups in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston, to explore attitudes of parents in different income groups and educational backgrounds toward specific marketing strategies and toward regulating or legislating the use of this advertising. The research affirmed that parents believed overwhelmingly that they are the most important factors in regulating what their kids eat. But they look to food manufacturers and advertisers to help them understand what is nutritious food, and they are not totally adverse to regulation of advertising.
  • The Alliance helped develop a proactive industry response. In preparation for the release of studies by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the joint HHS/FTC workshop on Marketing, Self-regulation and Childhood Obesity, the Alliance developed a coordinated set of messages to be used in working with the press and public. In doing so, we learned that a positive, proactive message about what the industry has done to develop healthier food products and promote healthier lifestyles is the most effective method of communicating to the public. Fortunately, the food industry has been very proactive in the marketplace, developing over 4,500 low-fat, low-calorie options in just the last four years.
  • The Alliance worked to get the Children and Media Research Advancement Act amended in committee. During the second session of the 109th Congress, several Senators who co-sponsored the Children and Media Research Advancement Act (CAMRA, S.1902) asked the majority leader of the Senate and the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee to move this legislation forward. While Alliance members did not object to having the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conduct further research on the impact of marketing on children, we were troubled by elements of the legislation that appeared to prejudge the outcome—whether presuming a connection between childhood obesity and children's food advertising or a link between media that children see and tendencies toward violent activity. We met with members of the committee and committee staff to outline our concerns and to suggest constructive alternatives. While final legislation has not yet been reported to the Senate, we believe our concerns will be carefully considered and reflected in any upcoming legislation.
  • The Alliance also has participated in meetings with key Federal Regulators. The FTC and its Bureau of Consumer Protection have primary responsibility in overseeing issues in children's advertising. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates children's advertising in terms of its percentage of overall program time. Because of the responsibilities of these two important agencies the Alliance has sought to build stronger relationships with commissioners and staff of these key agencies.
  • Met with members of Congress to increase support for industry activities. The Alliance members have begun a series of meetings with key congressional committees that oversee health and advertising issues to acquaint them with the scope of the childhood obesity issue, the role our members are playing to combat it, and how we believe that food marketing can play a constructive role. These meetings will continue in the next and subsequent Congresses to increase awareness and understanding of the role that the Alliance plays.
  • Monitored regulatory and legislative activities. The Alliance continuously monitors the activities of federal agencies, congressional committees, hearings, and private research activities that have addressed the relationship between childhood obesity and children's food advertising. We will continue to present a constructive and proactive alternative to some of the more harsh regulatory proposals as we also monitor activities of concern that are emerging in the European Union and particularly in the United Kingdom. Senator Harkin and others have introduced noteworthy, highly restrictive legislation. Some of these proposals would regulate or eliminate the use of certain marketing techniques and could establish a troubling precedent for food marketing in the U.S. At the same time, we are working with Alliance members that support the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), the advertising industry's children's advertising self-regulatory body, in order to strengthen this already major self-regulatory effort.
  • The Alliance welcomes the marketing at-retail industry to our coalition. We believe it will bring an important new dimension to developing the critical analysis and response to the expected long and extended debate over the obesity and food advertising issues. Daniel L. Jaffe ( is executive vice president, Government Relations, Association of National Advertisers, Inc. ANA's membership is a cross section of American industry, representing over 300 companies and 8,000 separate brand entities. ANA members conduct the majority of all national and regional advertising. He is responsible for monitoring and responding to all federal, state government, and legal initiatives that threaten national advertisers' freedom of commercial speech, and for directing ANA's government relations program.