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Originally published Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 10:06 PM

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Government urging food companies to limit ads for kids

The federal government proposed new guidelines Thursday that could push the food industry to overhaul how it advertises cereal, soda pop, snacks, restaurant meals and other foods to children.

The New York Times

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The federal government proposed new guidelines Thursday that could push the food industry to overhaul how it advertises cereal, soda pop, snacks, restaurant meals and other foods to children.

Citing an epidemic of childhood obesity, regulators are taking aim at a range of tactics used to market foods high in sugar, fat or salt to children, including the use of cartoon characters such as Toucan Sam, the Froot Loops pitchman who appears in television commercials and online games as well as on cereal boxes.

Regulators are asking food manufacturers and restaurant companies to make a choice: Make your products more healthful or stop advertising them to youngsters.

The guidelines, released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), encompass a broad range of marketing efforts, including TV and print ads, websites, online games that act as camouflaged ads, social media, product placements in movies, the use of movie characters in cross-promotions and fast-food children's meals.

The guidelines are meant to be voluntary, but companies are likely to face heavy pressure to adopt them. Companies that choose to take part would have five to 10 years to bring their products and marketing into compliance.

The FTC said in 2006 that food companies spent nearly $2.3 billion to advertise to children.

Food-industry officials criticized Thursday's proposal, saying their companies had taken significant steps to improve recipes and change the way they advertises to children.

Kellogg, which makes Froot Loops, said it was committed to improving "the nutrition credentials" of its products. The company has reduced sugar and added whole grains in many cereals.

The guidelines were written by the commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidelines call for foods that are advertised to children to meet two basic requirements. They would have to include certain healthful ingredients, such as whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, or low-fat milk. And they could not contain unhealthful amounts of sugar, saturated fat and salt.

The sugar requirement would limit cereals to 8 grams of added sugar a serving. Froot Loops and Cap'n Crunch currently contain 12 grams of sugar a serving.

The salt restrictions are particularly stringent. In an initial phase-in period, the guidelines call for many foods to have no more than 210 milligrams of sodium a serving, while main dishes and meals could have no more than 450 milligrams.

The sodium restrictions would get tougher over time.

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