The US food industry is being urged to improve the way it markets its products to children.

In addition, the federal government is recommending that manufacturers develop more nutritious foods as the nation struggles with epidemic levels of obesity, currently at around 15% of children and teenagers.

A report just published by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services found that food marketing to children was "out of balance with healthful diets" and contributes to "an environment that puts their health at risk".

It calls for an expansion of the Children's Advertising Review Unit to monitor the way high-fat, sugary foods are marketed to children beyond traditional advertising.

The document has been cautiously applauded by some nutrition lobbyists, including the Centre of Science in the Public Interest, as a step in the right direction.

But there is a feeling among some that self-regulation does not go far enough.

Senator Tom Harkin, an outspoken critic of junk food marketing to children, comments: "I am disappointed that the report only makes recommendations, without imposing any requirements on an industry largely out of control."

Manly Molpus, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, claims the industry has already undertaken "initiatives to help families improve their health and wellness".

However, he welcomes "the agencies' suggestions regarding other ways in which we might be able to have a positive impact on the health of all consumers, especially the children".

  • Meanwhile, an agreement between major beverage distributors and anti-obesity advocates has resulted in sodas being banned from sale in US public (state) schools, unless they are of the diet variety.

    Distributors, working with the William J Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, have also agreed to sell only water, juice and low-fat milks to elementary and middle schools.

    Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the American Beverage Association have all signed onto the deal.

    Data sourced from Adweek (USA) and Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff