NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 25, 2004

Banning television commercials for "junk food" directed at kids first surfaced at the Federal Trade Commission in the late 1970s. It didn't go anywhere then -- and it shouldn't go anywhere now, says Timothy J. Muris, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Banning junk food ads on kids' programming is impractical, ineffective and illegal. According to Muris:

  • It's impractical because, although kids see many food ads on children's television programming, most ads they see air on programs that are not directed to them.
  • The FTC's 1978 proposal to ban advertising on programs for which young children comprised at least 30 percent of the audience would have affected only one program -- the now iconic "Captain Kangaroo."

A ban would be ineffective because there is no reason to think that the ads kids see make them obese, says Muris:

  • Although American children see thousands of food ads each year, they have done so for decades -- since long before the dramatic upswing in obesity.
  • Today's kids actually watch less television than previous generations and have many more commercial-free choices.

Finally, a ban would be illegal, says Muris:

  • Food is not alcohol or tobacco; it's not illegal to sell food to kids.
  • The First Amendment requires government to demonstrate that restrictions on truthful, non-misleading commercial speech for legal products meaningfully advance a compelling interest; because a children's advertising ban would be ineffective, it would fall far short of that test.

Attacking food advertising may offer the illusion of progress in the fight against childhood obesity. But in the end Americans must eat less and exercise more, explains Muris.

Source: Timothy J. Muris, "Don't Blame TV," Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2004.

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