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Junk Food Marketing Restrictions Seek to Trim Waistlines

When children are not bombarded with junk food commercials and when sodas and other sugary drinks are less convenient to buy, the obesity battle has a better chance of being won. At least that’s the thought behind two soon-to-be-implemented marketing restrictions on the foods that make people fat.

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One focuses on the national advertising of fast foods, sugary cereals and other artificially sweetened products. The other affects sales of large sized sodas and other pre-sweetened drinks in New York City. In recent years, the Big Apple has served as a bellwether for public health legislation in other cities around the nation.

Junk Food

Effective 2015, television channels, radio stations and websites owned by the Walt Disney Company will no longer carry ads for fast food, candy, sugary cereals and other pre-sweetened items. Commercials for foods that are high in saturated fats and sodium will also be dropped. Food items that are advertised will have to meet nutritional guidelines established by Disney that impose limits on calories, sugar, sodium and saturated fat content. Saturday morning cartoons and other children’s programming on the ABC network will also adhere to these guidelines as ABC is a Disney holding. In addition, by the end of this year, “Mickey Check,” a seal of approval created by Disney will be carried on all nutritious foods sold at its stores, restaurants, theme parks and resorts.

The idea behind the ban, which has been endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama, is that youngsters will not be inclined to eat junk food when the commercials are not there to entice them. Although parents are usually the ones doing the grocery shopping and picking up the tab at the restaurants, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report finds that junk food marketing contributes to obesity in children

“Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S. and what I hope every company will do going forward,” Obama said. “When it comes to the ads they show and the food they sell, they are asking themselves one simple question: ‘Is this good for our kids?

Soda Sales

The Disney plan follows a much-debated proposal from New York City to prohibit restaurants, entertainment venues, street carts and any business defined as a “food service establishment” from selling sodas and other pre-sweetened drinks in sizes larger than 16 ounces. Free refills and additional drink purchases will continue to be available, but in cups no bigger than a medium sized coffee. The ban does not pertain to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks, alcoholic beverages and drinks with fewer than 25 calories per eight-ounce serving. Sales of beverages from grocery and convenience stores are also exempt.

The proposal is the latest effort by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to curb obesity in the Big Apple. Other regulations imposed under Bloomberg’s watch that have inspired other cities to follow suit (and have earned New York the nickname of “Nanny State”) include the requirement that restaurants publish calorie counts on menus and restrictions on trans fat content in restaurant food.

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” Bloomberg said.

The Coca Cola Company and the New York City Beverage Association argue that soft drinks are being unfairly singled out, but approval by New York City’s Board of Health is expected. Size restrictions could be in place as early as March, 2013.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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