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Activists Want Dietary Equal Time

Recognizing that the federal government is not likely to ban ads for legal products, critics of advertising aimed at kids are asking for a "balanced meal" that requires programmers accepting junk-food ads to also air public-service announcements touting healthy eating habits and exercise.

"It would be very reasonable to ask as a counterbalance to the threat to public health conveyed by these advertisements to have broadcasters air pro-health  pro-nutrition pro-exercise public service announcements in some proportion relative to the amount of junk food ads they're presenting to children," insisted Dale Kunkel, University of California-Santa Barbara communications professor and member of the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Advertising and Children.

The APA in February called on the federal government to ban food advertising to kids younger than eight. Kunkel made his comments Monday during a Cato Institute forum examining links between childhood obesity and marketing to kids.

But industry critics are wrong to blame marketers and TV, countered Daniel Jaffe, executive VP of the Association of National Advertisers. He noted that a recent Surgeon General report highlighting the undeniable increase in childhood obesity listed too much TV watching, not food ads, as a cause.

"Obviously if he thought advertising was a cause of obesity he would have mentioned it," Jaffe said. Jaffe added that the Ad Council already is preparing to roll out PSAs promoting healthy habits for kids, but mandating  those kinds of efforts would open a Pandora's box that would lead to additional obligations on advertisers later. The debate over advertising to kids continues Wednesday when APA joins with advocacy group Children Now to promote ad restrictions.