Obesity panel delays report

Wants to digest food biz initiatives

A government task force examining the effect the media might have on childhood obesity delayed the release of its report Thursday.

Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, along with FCC chairman Kevin Martin, said that they expect the committee to finish its work in the fall instead of midsummer as originally planned.

"The extension will allow for a more thorough examination of new initiatives that many of the food and beverage companies are coordinating, as well as a more comprehensive look at how all parties, especially media, can work together for the common good," Brownback and Harkin said in a statement.

The task force includes representatives of media companies, health-care officials, representatives of the food and beverage industries and commissioner Deborah Tate. Martin and commissioner Michael Copps also are members of the task force.

Recent proposals like the June promise the Kellogg Co. made to adopt nutrition standards for the products it markets to children or to cease marketing them altogether, have given the committee pause, an FCC official said. Members of the task force wanted time to digest the moves in order to make informed decisions, aides said.

"It's worth taking a few more weeks of work to produce the best possible product," one official said.

The task force is expected to issue several recommendations in its report, but it was unclear exactly what would be recommended. It is clear that the panel has a problem with the licensed characters used to sell food.

"It is vital that the task force address the critical issues of achieving a balance in food/ beverage advertising, the use of licensed characters, as well as innovative media initiatives to help reduce the rates of childhood obesity in this country," the senators wrote. "We look forward to the task force's report and commend their efforts in this area."

The policy changes Kellogg announced in June come 16 months after Kellogg and Viacom, the parent company of Nickelodeon, were threatened with a lawsuit aimed at their advertising to children by two advocacy groups — the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood — and two Massachusetts parents.

Because of the changes by Kellogg, the groups said that they would not proceed with the lawsuit against the company.

Viacom has not negotiated with the groups and was not part of the announcement. The groups have yet to determine if they will proceed with legal action against the programmer.

In November, 10 of the largest food and beverage companies, including McDonald's, General Mills and Kellogg, vowed that at least half of their advertising directed at children younger than 12 would promote healthier foods or encourage active lifestyle.