- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said the government has no plans to ban junk food advertising aimed at children.

Todd Zywicki, policy planning director for the federal agency that monitors advertising, reiterated comments made by Chairman Timothy J. Muris last week at an obesity conference in Williamsburg. Mr. Muris resigned in May, but is staying on until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

“The agency is not going to ban free speech that is not misleading,” Mr. Zywicki said during a panel discussion yesterday at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington.

Mr. Zywicki also said more children are mixing up their “screen time,” spending time playing video games and surfing the Internet instead of watching television.

Children are actually seeing fewer food and restaurant ads on TV. American children saw about 5,038 television commercials last year, 871 fewer than the 5,909 commercials viewed in 1994, said Daniel Jaffe, executive vice president for the Association of National Advertisers, a New York trade group.

A2001 health report by former Surgeon General David Satcher, which first labeled obesity an epidemic, did not mention any harmful effects of food advertising, Mr. Jaffe said.

The discussion took place as Britain, Ireland, New Zealand and Greece consider prohibiting food advertising aimed at children, following similar bans in Quebec and Sweden.

Washington will hold a World Obesity Congress and Expo next month to discuss ways to combat obesity worldwide.

Mr. Zywicki said no studies have shown a clear correlation between the number of food ads children see on television and rising obesity rates in Americans.

But critics like Dale Kunkel, a communications professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said food advertising has contributed to making 15 percent of American youth overweight.

Psychological studies have shown that children under the age of 4 do not understand the difference between ads for sugary, fat-laden products and regular programming, said Mr. Kunkel, a member of the American Psychological Association’s advertising and children task force.

“Advertising is becoming ingrained in the youth culture, which makes the food products more successful,” Mr. Kunkel said.

He said the Federal Trade Commission should have greater authority to stop food commercials that unfairly target children.

The agency tried to ban television advertising aimed at young children in the 1970s, but Congress overruled the measure.

Mr. Zywicki said the agency has the power to stop food companies from making misleading health claims. For example, the FTC last week settled charges with fast-food chain KFC Corp. for its campaign that promoted a fried chicken diet as comparable to some popular weight-loss programs.

But proposed bans or taxes on junk food advertising infringe on First Amendment rights and ignore parental responsibilities, he said.

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