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Ads Aimed at Children Get Tighter Scrutiny

"This is a move in the right direction. . . . it would be a pretty substantial change," said J. Michael McGinnis, who served as chair of the Institute of Medicine's Children's Food Marketing Committee, which last year recommended no licensed characters be used for marketing of unhealthful products and that the preponderance of advertising be focused on healthful ones.

Critics of children's marketing questioned whether the revised guidelines and the voluntary marketing effort require firms to make meaningful changes.

Spokesmen for several of the participating companies said they already refrain from advertising in elementary schools and paying for product placement on children's shows.

The companies have agreed to promote foods defined by the Food and Drug Administration as healthy, which doesn't address sugar, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group.

"All sugary breakfast cereals get a free ride," Jacobson said.

Frances Seligman, a nutritionist who served as a CARU adviser, countered that few food products meet that definition. "Let's just say you can't get a jelly bean in there," she said.

Others criticized CARU for not addressing nontraditional marketing, such as McDonald's use of Ronald McDonald in schools to promote physical activity.

"I don't see any substantial changes," said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and author of "Consuming Kids." She said companies "will continue to be able to market junk food to children -- and their marketing is going to be even more confusing for children because it will be linked to "healthy lifestyle" messages."

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