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Obesity Group Wants Food Advertisers to Pay

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WASHINGTON, D.C. The American Obesity Association has asked the Food and Drug Administration to consider a proposal that would prohibit companies that heavily advertise foods of low nutritional value from taking a tax deduction for the cost of those ads.

In a letter sent to FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan on Sept. 30, the advocacy group argued that of the $7 billion spent on advertising food each year, most of the ads tout food of low nutritional value. "Food companies are able to heavily advertise to children and consumers through the deductibility of advertising expenses on their corporate income taxes," the letter states.

Advertising lobby groups consider such a proposal unconstitutional. "We always hear that motherhood and apple pie was something we respected," said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers. "But any speech about apple pie would be punished by a tax penalty because I'm sure they feel it is too high in sugar. The only thing that gives me comfort is [that] the courts would never uphold such a thing."

The obesity group wants the federal government to do more to combat weight gain. This year, the government's Centers for Disease Control is spending nearly $70 million on the second year of an ad campaign encouraging kids, age 9-13, to be more active. New work in the effort called "Verb: It's What You Do", via Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, focuses on specific ways kids can include exercise in their day.

"The first year of the campaign was geared toward awareness and getting a new brand out to kids," said Michael Greenwell, the CDC's associate director of health and communication. "The second year is more about giving kids tangible ideas of things they can do to be more physically active everyday." Another round of creative will break in December.