Here’s Why Junk-Food Marketing to Kids Is About to Go on a Sugar High

The Federal Trade Commission’s oversight of the advertising of unhealthy foods to children appears to be over.

A 2014 Trix cereal commercial. (Photo: YouTube)

Jan 7, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.
Watch the commercials during SpongeBob Square Pants or any kid-oriented television show and it’s obvious that junk-food marketers aren’t at all shy about peddling their wares. But for the past few years the threat of being called out by the Federal Trade Commission for dangling unhealthy foods in front of America’s increasingly obese children has spurred some companies to spend fewer dollars pushing sugar- and salt-laden cereals and other snacks. Now comes the news that the FTC is abandoning the report that spurred the food industry to keep its egregious marketing schemes in check.
Indeed, a representative of the FTC said the government agency has no plans to reproduce its Review of Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents report.

“The decision hasn’t been made whether to do a follow-up,” Mary Engle, associate director of the FTC’s division of advertising practices, told Politico.

The report, which was produced in 2008 and 2012, revealed how much cash America’s 44 largest food and beverage companies were spending to shill their products. In the 2008 report, the FTC’s analysis revealed that these companies forked over an astounding $1.6 billion to push junk food to kids. Putting that kind of information in front of policy makers and politicians produced a slight improvement in marketing practices: In the 2012 report, the FTC noted that food and beverage company spending on junk-food marketing had dropped by 20 percent from the previous report. On top of that, these same businesses were spending more to promote healthier options to youngsters.
But the report also found that companies weren't entirely turning over a new leaf. They were starting to abandon traditional television advertising for Web-based and viral video–style ads, and they were stepping up their tie-ins with kid-friendly movies too.
Without the report, the FTC is no longer conducting any oversight of the way food is marketed to kids. Several members of Congress signed letters in September encouraging the FTC to produce another report, but so far there’s been no movement.
“The FTC has a responsibility to follow up on their 2012 report,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who signed on to the letter, told Politico in November. “We know that food and beverage companies shamelessly market items of poor nutritional quality to children. The FTC has an obligation to issue a report so that the public, and policymakers, know where more work is needed.”
Insiders told Politico that the White House, which has backed First Lady Michelle Obama’s push for healthy lunches, could tell the FTC to get the ball rolling on another report. But given that it takes plenty of time to gather the data and prepare the report, with just two years left in the Obama administration, federal oversight of America’s junk-food pushers seems to be over.