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FTC Isn't Banning Junk Food Ads

WASHINGTON - The Federal Trade Commission said yesterday that the government isn't planning to ban junk food advertising targeting children, according to the Washington Times.

During a panel discussion at Washington-based libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, Todd Zywicki, the agency's policy planning director, said, "The agency is not going to ban free speech that is not misleading. His comments echoed those of FTC chairman Timothy J. Muris at an obesity conference in Williamsburg, Va. last week.

Children are actually seeing fewer food and restaurant ads on television. American children watched around 5,038 TV commercials last year, 871 fewer than the 5,909 commercials seen in 1994, according to Daniel Jaffe, e.v.p. for the Association of National Advertisers in New York. Jaffe added that a 2001 health report by former Surgeon General David Satcher, which first referred to obesity an epidemic, made no mention of any negative effects of food advertising.

The United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and Greece are currently considering the prohibition of food advertising targeting children, in the wake of similar bans in Quebec and Sweden. Washington will host a World Obesity Congress and Expo next month to discuss methods of battling the problem internationally.

According to Zywicki, no studies have shown a clear link between the number of food ads children view on television and skyrocketing obesity rates in the United States. But Dale Kunkel, a communications professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, believes food advertising has helped make 15 percent of American children fat.

Psychological studies have revealed that children under the age of 4 don't differentiate between ads for fattening foods and regular TV programs, said Mr. Kunkel, a member of the American Psychological Association's advertising and children task force. He said the Federal Trade Commission should have more authority to ban food commercials that are unfairly aimed at children.

The agency attempted to prohibit TV ads aimed at youngsters in the 1970s, but was overruled by Congress.

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

However, proposed bans or taxes on junk food advertising infringe on First Amendment rights and ignore parental responsibilities, according to Zywicki.
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