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AU Expert Testifies at FTC Forum, Says Public Needs to Hold Food Industry Accountable

Marketers Promise Changes to Combat Childhood Obesity

Contact: Maggie Barrett, AU Media Relations, (202) 885-5951 or barrett@american.edu

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 19, 2007) - Eleven of the largest food and drink companies in the United States announced they established and will adhere to new standards for marketing high fat, high sugar foods to children under the age of 12. The announcement came just ahead of the July 18 forum, "Weighing In: A Check-Up on Marketing, Self-Regulation, and Childhood Obesity," held by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Health and Human Services.

American University's Kathryn C. Montgomery, an expert on children and media and online marketing, testified at the forum. She said although the rules are a step in the right direction, it is the first of many steps needed to help turn the tides on the childhood obesity epidemic gripping the nation. (See Montgomery's full testimony below).

In her testimony, Montgomery said the public, including parents and policy makers, needs to gauge the new rules by three standards:

· The industry needs to expand the rules to apply not just to children, but teens, who often as Montgomery noted, "spend more of their own money on food, make more of their food choices independent of their parents and do more of their food consumption outside of the home."

· The rules need to address not just television ads, but emerging digital marketing practices including social media Web sites, instant messaging, cell phones, video games and other high-tech modes of communication and entertainment. "With the explosion of digital media, we are witnessing a further expansion of food marketing designed to intrude into every possible 'touch point' of a young person's daily life," Montgomery said.

· The rules should be strengthened and enforced by new government laws and regulations. "Self-regulation is always reactive," Montgomery explained. "Adjustments are made to controversial practices in order to placate critics, deflect pressure and preempt government regulation. But when the public spotlight has diverted elsewhere, industry policing may relax. When there is a great deal of money to be made, as there is in the child and teen market, practices are likely to return to business as usual, or new ones created to circumvent public scrutiny."

Montgomery is a professor in American University's School of Communication. During the 1990s, as president of the Center for Media Education, she led the campaign to pass the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. She recently co-authored the report "Interactive Food & Beverage Marketing: Targeting Children and Youth in the Digital Age," sponsored by the Berkeley Media Studies Group and the Center for Digital Democracy. She is the author of the book, "Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce and Childhood in the Age of the Internet." Published July 2007 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, the book documents the growth of digital media and marketing in the lives of young people.

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the U.S. and nearly 150 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service and internships in the nation's capital and around the world.