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The Chicago Tribune reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is out with a report card evaluating the efforts of packaged goods manufacturers to improve the nutrition levels of products marketed to kids. The report comes four years after a voluntary initiative was developed by the Council for Better Business Bureau that was designed to develop healthier advertising to children.

According to the story, “No company received an ‘A.’ The highest score was a ‘B+’ won by Mars Inc., the candy maker that owns Chicago-based Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. Northfield-based Kraft was one of six companies that got a ‘B-,’ while Oak Brook-based McDonald's was one of six graded with a ‘C-.’ ... Two-thirds of the companies analyzed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest did not have a policy for food marketing to children, earning them an automatic ‘F.’ Sara Lee fell into that category.”

The reason for Mars’ leading grade? The story says that the company has stopped marketing to children under 12, and has created a policy that covers all media, not just television and print.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) issued a statement responding to the CSPI report.

“The food and beverage industry has already changed the recipes of more than 10,000 products to reduce calories, sugar, sodium, and fat. We are working with experts at FDA and USDA to design new labels that make information about calories and nutrition facts clearer for busy parents. And, we have changed the way we advertise our products during children’s programming. Because our industry has applied nutrition standards to our advertising seen during children’s programming, two-thirds of advertisements viewed on children’s programming now feature healthy food and active lifestyles.” In fact, GMA said, studies have shown that between 2004 and 2008, ads for food, beverages and restaurants dropped 31 percent, while snack ads dropped by 60 percent and commercials for cookies dropped by 82 percent.
KC's View:
I actually sort of like it when companies are more sensitive about advertising to kids, the same way I like it when supermarkets create candy-free checkout lanes for parents to use.

But I don’t worry too much about these issues.

Ultimately, I figure, it is my job as the parent to monitor how much TV my kids watch, to not give into their whining about wanting this or that, and, ultimately, to raise children who don’t whine and who are downright skeptical about advertising claims (not to mention claims made by pretty much every institution or organization).

I like that CSPI keeps the spotlight on these issues, and I think it is appropriate for CPG companies to pay attention and to be responsible. (After all, most of the people working for CPG companies are parents, too...and they ought not check their parental responsibilities at the front door.) But I’d actually be more in favor of an organization we might call CPAACBI - Center for Parents Actually Acting In Their Children’s Best Interests - except that it would be an organization, and therefore would merit considerable skepticism.