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First lady’s junk food plan redux

Earlier today, I wrote about regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would ban, for the first time, advertising in public schools that pushes foods high in fat, sugar, salt — otherwise known as junk food.

First lady Michelle Obama is behind the initiative, which follows a new law that says foods and beverages sold in schools must meet new nutrition standards.

The move Tuesday to control advertising in schools comes about three years after the Obama administration tried but failed to take on a bigger — and arguably more important — target: all food and beverage advertising aimed at kids.

At the direction of Congress, the federal government in 2011 proposed voluntary guidelines for the food and beverage industry that would govern the way it markets to children.

The guidelines were drafted by officials from Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

First lady Michelle Obama marked the fourth anniversary of her Let's Move Campaign at the White House on Tuesday. (Reuters)

They dealt with the $2 billion spent annually on food and beverage advertising aimed at children on television, computers and all media, marketing that the Institute of Medicine called “at best, a missed opportunity, and, at worst, a direct threat to the health of the next generation.”

Released in the spring of 2011, the guidelines recommended ceilings on the amounts of sodium, added sugars, and unhealthy fats and proposed minimum amounts of fruit-, vegetable-, or whole-grain-based ingredients in foods advertised to children.

The effort, which was supported by a raft of public health and consumer groups, collapsed after serious pushback by companies that make soda, candy, snack foods and other foods with little nutritional value.

Food and drink manufacturers fought the volunteer program, saying the guidelines proposed by the federal government were too broadly written and even though voluntary, they feared the impact would be coercion. Industry officials also argued that they were unnecessary because the industry was policing itself.

Public health advocates said the industry’s efforts at self-policing weren’t working fast enough and pointed to the fact that in 2009, with the industry’s voluntary measures in place, 86 percent of food advertising seen by children promoted foods high in saturated fat, sugar or sodium.

As the 2012 election year approached, the FTC, which was supposed to finalize the voluntary guidelines, failed to release a final version.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.

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