- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The federal government is pursuing a plan that will effectively ban advertising of some of America’s most popular and nutritious foods because they have been deemed unhealthy for kids according to strict standards created by the federal government. These troubling restrictions on food marketing were unveiled recently by a special interagency working group made up of the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture.

The government’s restrictions on what foods can be marketed to kids are quite prohibitive, go too far and do not address the problem of childhood obesity. Five years ago, the Institute of Medicine looked at this very issue and concluded that “evidence is not sufficient to arrive at any finding about a causal relationship from television advertising to adiposity among children and youth.” There is also no evidence to indicate that the proposed restrictions will help Americans build healthy diets. This attempt at a quick fix by the government misses the mark completely and, in fact, stymies our opportunity to learn about new products that can help us put together a healthy diet for our families.

I believe the government should be empowering consumers with more information, not less.

The government’s proposal contradicts nutritional science. In fact, it would prohibit the marketing of foods deemed healthy by nutrition experts - even government nutrition experts - including many cereals, soups, breads and fruit juices. For example, under the proposed rules, marketing would be severely restricted and even eliminated for good foods such as oatmeal, every single ready-to-eat cereal except plain shredded wheat, as well as whole-wheat bread, orange juice, peanut butter, milk and yogurt.

Additionally, these proposed new restrictions contradict other federal nutrition standards, including those set for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program and school meals, as well as many foods that meet the FDA’s definition of “healthy” and are encouraged for consumption under the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. The government is saying, on the one hand, that foods in WIC and school meals meet federal nutrition requirements but, on the other, that the standards in place aren’t good enough to market to children. Most recently, just three of the 15 recipes that were finalists in a USDA Recipes for Healthy Kids contest could be marketed to children. Moreover, of the 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages in America (as reported by the NPD Group Inc.) 88 would fail the federal working group’s proposed standards, leaving only fresh fruit and vegetables and nonfat yogurt. Though these are healthy foods, they don’t provide enough utrients to constitute a healthy diet.

It is difficult to understand why the government is devoting so many resources to an effort that is so off-base.Nearly everyone agrees that obesity - and especially childhood obesity - needs to be addressed, but let’s spend our valuable resources promoting better information, more education and increased physical activity.

We must stop this attempt to take mealtime decision-making out of the hands of parents and give it to government. It’s enough to make you lose your appetite.

Beth Johnson, a dietitian and owner of Food Directions, is a former acting undersecretary of food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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