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Federal Group Unveils Strict Nutrition Standards for Marketing to Kids

Dec 18, 2009

In an effort to help America's youth combat rising obesity rates, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other government agencies jointly announced tentative new nutrition standards this week that will restrict the type of foods that can be marketed to kids and teens. These complex proposed guidelines could restrict how the dairy foods industry, retailers and entertainment companies promote food products to children from ages two to 17.

The standards would cover the 20 categories of marketing that the FTC previously defined in its 2008 recommendations. In addition to traditional advertising (print, television and radio), the categories include digital advertising, in-store promotions, product packaging, and contests and sweepstakes.

"These new nutrition standards, which were intended to limit calorie and fat-laden foods with little nutritional value, are overly strict and missed the mark by restricting many nutrient-rich dairy foods like lowfat flavored milk and yogurt, reduced fat cheese and fat-free ice creams from being marketed to kids and teens," said Cary Frye, IDFA vice president of regulatory affairs.

Mandated by Congress and dubbed the "SNAC PAC," the interagency working group comprises representatives from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) and the FTC. The group plans to recommend that these proposed nutrition standards be applied to all food marketing to children.

Proposed Classifications

As currently drafted, the nutrition standards are made up of three elements:

  1. Standard I classifies certain foods (100 percent fruit and fruit juices, 100 percent vegetables and vegetable juices with limited sodium content, 100 percent non-fat and lowfat milk and yogurt (without sweeteners or other added ingredients), 100 percent whole grains, and 100 percent water) as part of "a healthful diet" and may be marketed to children without meeting additional standards. If a food product doesn't meet Standard I, it must meet both Standards II and III to be marketed to kids.
  2. Standard II requires that "foods marketed to children must provide a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet" based on the composition of certain foods. The SNAC PAC is considering either classifying foods falling within this category: by weight or by recommended serving amount.
  3. Standard III states that foods marketed to children must not contain more than a limited identified amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and sodium. The amounts are listed below.
  • Saturated Fat: 1 gram or less per FDA defined serving size of "Recommended Amount  Customarily Consumed" (RACC) and not more than 15 percent of calories.
  • Trans Fat: 0 gram per RACC (less than 0.5g)
  • Sugar: Not more than 13 grams of added sugar per RACC
  • Sodium: Not more than 200 milligrams per portion (level should be reduced over time to 140     milligrams per RACC)

For foods with a small RACC (30 grams or less, or two tablespoons or less), the criteria will be based on the amount per 50 grams of food.

These standards represent major constraints to marketing nutritious milk, cheeses, yogurts and frozen desserts that are currently in the market place. Only unflavored lowfat and fat-free milk or yogurts without sweeteners would meet Standard I. According to Standard III, the marketing of lowfat (1 percent milkfat) flavored milk would be restricted because the level of saturated fat is 1.5 grams per eight ounces (RACC). Even some fat-free flavored milks with sugars higher than 25 grams per serving (13 grams of added sugars plus 12 grams of natural lactose) would be excluded unless the amount of sugar could be reduced.

Since the proposed standard is based on a RACC serving, which is eight ounces for yogurt rather than the individual serving size, many current yogurt products would have to reformulate to reduce added sugars and lower fat levels to avoid restrictions. Cheese which has a RACC of 28 grams, would be subject to these standards on a 50 gram basis, which would eliminate most natural cheese; even reduced-fat versions would not qualify based on saturated fat. Also, most cheeses, including natural and processed, contain levels of sodium that exceed the new standards.

Read the "SNAC PAC Draft Nutritional Standards" here.

The proposed standards will be presented to Congress in a report due next July. Government representatives emphasized that the proposed standards will not supplement or replace existing food regulations or official dietary guidelines and will govern only food marketing to kids. The representatives also stressed that they will seek input from industry through an upcoming Federal Register notice.

IDFA staff will be working with members to assess the impact of the proposal on the marketing of dairy products and to provide detailed comments requesting changes to the standards. For more information, contact Frye or Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of nutrition and labeling, at (202) 737-4332.


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