Food Ads Aimed at Kids Under Fire

Will we soon be saying goodbye to Tony the Tiger? And if so, will that stop your kids from asking for the sugary breakfast cereal?

Advertisements pushing sugary cereals, snacks and drinks to kids may soon face serious limitations. Under new government guidelines proposed Thursday, food companies are being urged to only market foods to children ages two to 17 if the goods meet certain guidelines, such as being low in fats, sugars and sodium, and containing specified healthy ingredients, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site. If many companies sign on to the guidelines, it could be curtains for the colorful characters targeting sugary products to kids.

The marketing guidelines, developed by the Federal Trade Commission, Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are designed to encourage more self-regulation in the food industry, and also to support parents' own efforts to enforce a healthier lifestyle among their children, the FTC wrote on its Web site. Congress ordered the agencies to begin working on these guidelines in 2009, led by former Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Ks.) and Sen. Tom Harking (D-Iowa).

The guidelines state that advertising and marketing should encourage the kids they are targeting to choose foods that include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra lean meat and poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds and beans, according to the FTC.

Dr. Glen Kashurba, of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, said that while the move may be well-meaning, it may not have much impact on the younger group it is targeting.

"I don't think six-year-olds have a tremendous amount of impact on what their moms and dads buy them," Kashurba said. "The biggest impact is on teens that have discretionary income and can go buy what they want."

Less advertising doesn't necessarily mean less desire for the children either, he said.

"I don't know that they will want it less. As long as it is available, they will eat it," Kashurba said. "We have to get to the point that we have a conscious decision not to do that. A lot of it comes down to the parents—the biggest influence is the adults in the household. The younger you are, the more it is of that."

Public comment on the guideline proposals is being welcomed on the FTC site, and a public forum with the government agencies will take place on May 24 in Washington, D.C. The FTC said the forum comments will be considered before it submits its final report to Congress.