In Brief

An APA member and an APA staff member--at the invitation of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)--participated in a press conference on March 16 to highlight the need for limits on advertising aimed at children, particularly advertising by the food industry.

Jeff McIntyre, senior legislative and federal affairs officer in APA's Public Policy Office, represented APA at the event. Other presenters included APA member Susan Linn, PhD, from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood; Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest; and Marian Nestle, PhD, a New York University nutrition professor.

In his remarks, McIntyre reported on the findings of the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children.

"Because children 8 or younger do not understand persuasive intent in advertising, they are easy targets for commercial persuasion," he said. "This is a critical concern because the most common products marketed to children are sugared cereals, candies, sweets, sodas and snack foods." Such research findings on persuasive intent provided the basis for the APA Task Force recommendation to restrict advertising to children in this age group, McIntyre explained.

At the briefing, Harkin described advertising to children as "a public health crisis of the first order." Holding up a baby "onesy" emblazoned with a picture of a Krispy Kreme donut, the senator said: "Parents' choices about their children's eating habits are undermined by junk food ads everyday. Although parents may want their kids to eat healthy, they often lose out because SpongeBob SquarePants, Shrek and cartoon superheroes entice kids to eat fast food and sugary snacks. The childhood obesity epidemic is real, and the time to act is now."

Harkin said he plans to send a letter to the food industry, broadcasters and others, calling for a new meaningful, uniform and system-wide set of age-appropriate guidelines for marketing junk food to kids. He also plans to announce legislation that would restore the Federal Trade Commission's authority to regulate marketing directed at children.