FCC Bites into the Child Obesity Issue
(Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia)
(Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia)
[See 7/5/07 update at bottom]When I wrote a post a few weeks ago above the FCC's UK counterpart, Ofcom, having problems with its attempt at regulating food advertising for children, I did not anticipate that there was FCC interest in this issue. Yet this week on the FCC website appeared "FCC Announces List of Participants on Task Force on "Media and Childhood Obesity: Today and Tomorrow". It turns out that this is not new news. On September 23, 2006 Senator Sam Brownback announced that he "joined FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate to announce the formation of a government and industry task force to examine the impact of media and advertising on children’s health." Yes, the same Sen. Brownback who announced his bid for the presidency on January 25.
Child obesity is a serious problem in many countries. The French government is concerned about it, although a casual look around Paris shows that the problem is minor compared to in the US. The American Obesity Association reports about 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12 to 19) and 15.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are obese. It is commonly felt that TV advertising is likely to be a contributing factor to this epidemic.
The ever chaotic FCC website now has created a web page on the issue. It can clearly be seen that this is a high priority, or at least high visibility project, because it has a more sophisticated design* than the normal FCC web pages where the public interacts with the FCC with great difficulty on the day-to-day business of FCC. It even has both "shockwave" animation and music, probably a first for FCC. (This on the website that has no way of finding ongoing rulemakings - if you don't know the docket number - and still uses a search engine dating to the early Clinton Administration!) FCC: if you must use expensive audiovisual techniques on your website to show that you are au courant, when don't you use them constructively to make an audiovisual presentation of why child obesity is important? It isn't clear what the audiovisual effects add to this webpage other than cost.
The formulation of this effort as a "task force" involving members of Congress neatly avoids the transparency requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act - for reasons that are never mentioned. For an FCC that advocates transparency for its foreign counterparts this is rather odd.
So I applaud the FCC's entry into this important area and hope that it is more than a political charade. I urge FCC to review what Ofcom has done in this area by going to their "Food Advertising" home page and by searching on their site for other background material on "obesity" that includes the minutes of their advisory committee on the topic. (In doing this search you probably will notice that Ofcom's search engine is a lot more effective than that of the FCC site.) As my earlier post on Ofcom and cheese points out, Ofcom's well intended efforts in this area have had some problems. I hope FCC can learn from these and develop a constructive plan of action including voluntary action by the industries involved as much as possible. Bill Clinton's efforts to remove junk food vending machines from schools shows that voluntary action can have a key role but the threat of effective regulation is a real motivator.
Update from FCC homepage:
2/13/07* It is amusing to note that even with the extra attention lavished on this website, it has problems indicating the usual lack of quality control at FCC these days: On the site's Recent Actions page , as of this writing, the top 2 links to FCC's announcement of the task force and Comm. Tate's 1/23/07 statement don't work. The nonfunctioning links used on this page are http://www.fcc.gov/obesity/documents/nr012307.pdf and http://www.fcc.gov/obesity/documents/stdtt012307.pdf while the correct links are http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-269715A1.pdf and http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-269714A1.pdf.
The scheduled Wednesday, February 14, 2007, meeting of the Task Force, “Media and Childhood Obesity: Today and Tomorrow” has been cancelled because of the weather. The Task Force will reschedule the meeting for a future date.
[This has now been corrected.]
7/5/07 FCC website announces " Extension of Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity"