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The Federal Trade Commission testified today before the U.S. House of Representatives on the agency’s efforts to help address childhood obesity through its participation in the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children.  The Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, David C. Vladeck, delivered the testimony on behalf of the FTC at a joint hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade.

The testimony explains that the Interagency Working Group was convened in 2009 in response to a bipartisan effort led by Senator Tom Harkin and former Senator Sam Brownback.  Congress charged the Working Group’s members – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FTC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – with developing nutrition standards for foods marketed to children and defining the scope of marketing to which those standards would apply.  In response to this charge, the Working Group has been developing recommendations to Congress for voluntary principles to guide industry self-regulation.  As the member agency with marketing expertise, the FTC’s role has been to develop workable parameters to define children’s marketing.  

The testimony details the FTC’s history of support for strong and meaningful self-regulation to improve the nutritional profile of foods marketed directly to children.  It states the Commission’s view that regardless of whether food marketing contributes to childhood obesity, marketing can be an effective tool to encourage children to make more healthful choices.  The testimony also recognizes that many food marketers have already pledged to play a role in improving children’s nutrition and health through marketing.

The Working Group released preliminary proposed voluntary principles to guide industry self-regulation for public comment in April 2011.  During the comment period, the food industry’s self-regulatory program, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), proposed a uniform set of nutrition principles of its own that is considerably stronger than the current individual pledges of the member companies, and represents “substantial progress by industry,” the testimony notes.

As a result of the many comments received from various stakeholders, and an assessment of the CFBAI proposal, the Working Group is considering making significant revisions to its initial proposed principles in crafting its final recommendations to Congress, including revising the marketing principles to more narrowly focus them on those techniques that are used most extensively to market to children, the testimony states.  Among other things, FTC staff is contemplating that, with the exception of certain in-school marketing activities, it is not necessary to include marketing directed to adolescents ages 12 to 17 within the scope of covered marketing activities.

FTC staff is working to develop recommendations on the scope of marketing to children that will cover all the most important aspects of children’s marketing without being unduly restrictive, the testimony concludes.

The Commission vote authorizing the testimony was 4-0.

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(Food Marketing Testimony)
(FTC File No. P094513)

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