According to public health lawyer and activist Michele Simon, who recently attended a meeting in Brussels “to address the problem of cross-border marketing of unhealthy food to children,” the same types of issues confronting public health advocates in the United States confront their counterparts in Europe. Regulatory standards are apparently under development, but Simon did not share the details because they are still in draft and the meeting was closed to the public.
She did, however, discuss a presentation by an industry representative who apparently outlined voluntary efforts that food and beverage companies have undertaken in Europe to decrease the number of TV ads children are exposed to. Simon questioned the effectiveness of these efforts and industry’s transparency, noting that the messages companies are delivering to children in other ways, such as the Internet, are not apparently being tracked.
Simon also provided a summary of the Federal Trade Commission’s update on “the stalled federal voluntary guidelines in process here.” According to an agency representative, proposed voluntary guidelines should be issued in the next two to three months and will be followed by a 45-day comment period. The proposal will not apparently differ to a great extent from a draft published in December 2009, but is intended “to be feasible, something industry will adopt on a voluntary basis, and [will not] be dead on arrival.”
Simon concludes, “I left Brussels with the impression that the food industry is engaging in the same charade all over the world: setting weak, self-serving, voluntary guidelines designed to ensure companies can keep right on marketing their unhealthy brands to children while mollifying regulators and distracting researchers with evaluating their useless pledges, commitments, and initiatives.” See Corporations and Health Watch, March 23, 2011.
Meanwhile, the same online publication has made available reports prepared by the Berkeley Media Studies Group on marketing issues. They are “The Soda and Fast-Food Industries Target their Marketing Towards Mothers of Color,” and “Target Marketing Soda & Fast Food: Problems with Business as Usual.” The group contends that the industries “exploit cultural ties and values to create a demand for some of the unhealthiest foods and beverages that contribute to the obesity epidemic” and foster “structural racism” by perpetuating misleading stereotypes and “promoting high fat, sugary, salty foods to communities where the rates of childhood obesity are highest and growing the fastest.” See Corporations and Health Watch, April 6, 2011.