Kansas senator Sam Bronback yesterday (27 September) unveiled plans to form a new joint task force to tackle the rising problem of childhood obesity and its link to junk food advertising.

Brownback said that the aim was to unite the public and private sectors, bringing together “industry, government, and advocacy organisations to combat the rising tide of childhood obesity”. The task force will begin its work in early 2007 and produce a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report. 
The Republican senator said that the task force would not just look at the industry, but at parents and “the role the federal government has in stemming this crisis”. Though Brownback mentioned tobacco marketing restrictions, he played down the suggestion that the task force could recommend a total or partial ban on food advertising. Asked whether food ad restrictions were a possibility, he said he was “certainly not at that point today”.

He continued: “I think if we want to start an adversarial relationship at the very outset, that [focusing on ad restrictions] would be the way to do it. We want these companies to participate. We don’t want them to come to the table with the notion that now that we have them in the room we’re going to take a hammer to them.”
“It would be my hope,” he said, “that we would get a number of private companies who are paying for the advertising engaged with people in the scientific community saying, ‘OK, we want to advertise this set of products, and the public entities say, ‘Yes, but, let’s advertise it this way, or can you reduce the fat content of this one or encourage exercise when you are doing this.”
He called this a “business-to-business” model, “relying on the task force members to implement innovative programmes within their industries, generated from discussions rather than federal, heavy-handed mandates.”
The food industry has largely welcomed the bipartisan effort. Brownback said that his office had been in contact with a number of major food manufacturers who are considering joining the task force.

Food industry body GMA/FPA has already signalled its support for the move. Senior vice president of government affairs Mary Sophos said: “We look forward to working with this Joint Task Force on Child Obesity and for the opportunity to continue our role as an advocate for responsible advertising and marketing practices. The members of GMA/FPA have a longstanding commitment to ensuring that its communications with consumers, especially children, accurately portray the products, their intended uses and the benefits they deliver.”

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