THURSDAY, July 14 (HealthDay News) -- A coalition of the nation's largest food makers on Thursday unveiled a plan to set new nutrition standards for foods that can be advertised to children.
The standards include reducing sugar, salt, calories and trans fat and saturated fat.
But, they still fall short of recommendations proposed by the Obama administration in April.
"We have established uniform criteria for participating companies' child-directed advertising," Elaine Kolish, vice president and director of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which includes such companies as ConAgra, General Mills and Kellogg, said during a Thursday morning press conference.
"These new criteria are challenging, but realistic, goals for further improving the products advertised to children," she said.
According to Kolish, about one-third of products currently advertised to kids don't meet the new nutrition criteria. By Dec. 31, 2013, products must meet the new standards or they can't be advertised to kids.
The standards affect foods in the following categories: dairy; grains; fruits and vegetables; soups and meal sauces; seeds; nuts, nut butters and spreads; meat, fish and poultry; mixed dishes; and prepared main dishes and meals, such as macaroni and cheese. Each category has its own criteria, Kolish said.
For example, juices can't have added sugars and no more than 160 calories per serving. For flavored milk, an 8-ounce serving will be limited to 24 grams of sugar. Cereals with about 150 calories per serving can have no more than 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 290 milligrams of salt and 10 grams of sugar.
Also, peanut butter can have no more than 220 calories per 2 tablespoons, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 240 milligrams of salt and 4 grams of sugar.
The criteria also call for specified amounts of fruits, vegetables, low or non-fat dairy, whole grains and some products to be supplemented with calcium and vitamin D, Kolish said.
Eric Decker, chairman of the Department of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts, was asked by Kolish to review the new standards. Speaking at the news conference, he said, "These guidelines are a tremendous step forward, because they provide a balance for the nutritional significance of the food and yet allow inclusions of foods that are going to taste good and be affordable."
In April, the U.S. government issued guidelines it said it hopes the food industry will adopt for lower amounts of sugar, salt and fats in foods advertised to children. Those guidelines are lower than the new industry guidelines.
Kolish said she hopes the government will modify its guidelines, which she called unrealistic and unattainable.
"We share the same goals as these government agencies. We all want healthier kids," she said. "But we think the government's proposal is unworkable and unrealistic."
For instance, Kolish said, to reduce salt levels by more than half "one would have to overcome vast technical issues, and then you would have to have a product consumers would actually eat."
Obesity expert Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said "the food industry is acknowledging that advertising foods of questionable nutritional value to children in an age of epidemic childhood obesity and diabetes is wrong. That is certainly a good thing."
But, there's an inescapable conflict of interest when the companies that profit from selling foods decide how to limit their own marketing, Katz said. "No one with a modicum of real-world common sense is surprised that the home-grown standards of food companies are less restrictive than the government standards the same companies rejected," he noted.
"The right approach, which the industry does not even seem to be considering, would be to link marketing to a reliable measure of overall nutritional quality, not just a select nutrient or two. One-nutrient-at-a-time guidance can be entirely misleading," Katz added.
An estimated one-third of U.S. children are now considered overweight or obese. Kids who are too heavy run the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol; type 2 diabetes; breathing problems, such as sleep apnea, and asthma; joint problems; fatty liver disease; and social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood, according to the National Institutes of Health.
To learn more about healthy eating for kids, visit the Nemours Foundation.
SOURCES: David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; July 14, 2011, teleconference with: Elaine Kolish, vice president and director, Council of Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative; Eric Decker, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Food Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
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