Blumenthal & DeLauro Introduce Bill to End Federal Tax Subsidy for Unhealthy Food, Beverage Marketing to Children

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act to end the federal tax subsidy for unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children. The legislation requires that money generated by the elimination of the tax subsidy be used to fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides fresh fruit or vegetable snacks to elementary school students in low-income schools. According to a study published in the Journal of Law and Economics and funded by the National Institutes of Health, the elimination of the tax subsidy could reduce the rates of childhood obesity by five to seven percent. U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has introduced the House companion to this legislation.

“This measure makes taxpayers allies of health advocates and nutritious eating, rather than aiders and abettors of junk food. We must do better to protect our children from deceptive and unfair marketing practices that promote unhealthy products – influencing their food preferences and causing obesity and heart disease,” Blumenthal said. “The Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act would close the tax loophole that allows companies to write off the cost of marketing junk food and sugary beverages to children.”

“The U.S. is in the midst of a dual epidemic of obesity and diabetes, and we need to do something to stop it. As they consume excess calories, added sugars, and higher than recommended levels of sodium, fat, and saturated fat, American children are not meeting basic nutritional goals,” said DeLauro. “We must do everything we can to ensure that our kids can grow up healthy and we can start with enacting the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act to help them make the right nutritional choices.”

Under the current federal tax code, companies can deduct marketing and advertising expenses from their income taxes, including expenses for marketing unhealthy food and sugary beverages to children. The Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act would amend the tax code to prohibit a deduction for advertising directed at children to promote the consumption of food and beverages of “poor nutritional quality.” The legislation would also direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services – in consultation with the Secretary of the Federal Trade Commission – to contract with the Institute of Medicine to define foods and brands of “poor nutritional quality.”

“The federal government could and should do much more to protect children from junk-food marketing, but at the very least it shouldn’t be subsidizing that activity,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest President Michael F. Jacobson.  “It’s appropriate to use the tax code to nudge food marketers in the right direction.  The industry could retain the tax deduction by marketing healthier foods to children, or by shifting marketing dollars away from children altogether.”

Yesterday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report that found that the Coca Cola Company continues to market to children on family-oriented TV shows, at theme parks, and through the use of cartoon characters, despite pledging not to.

Children today are immersed in an environment that promotes unhealthy foods and beverages. Products high in fat, sugar, and salt comprise 88 percent of food and beverage television advertising seen by children. Each day, children see an average of 13 food and beverage ads on television – in addition to other food marketing like product packaging, character and athlete endorsements, online banner ads, advergames, and more. According to a 2012 report from the Federal Trade Commission, nearly $2 billion a year is spent marketing food to children.

A comprehensive report from the Institute of Medicine confirmed that "aggressive marketing of high-calorie foods to children and adolescents has been identified as one of the major contributors to childhood obesity." The report concluded that television food advertising adversely affects children’s food preferences, purchase requests, diets, and health. While reducing obesity requires a multi-faceted approach, the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act would remove an incentive for food and beverage companies to market unhealthy food to children, and encourage them to use their creativity and resources to encourage children to make healthy eating decisions.

The Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act is supported by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, American Public Health Association, American Heart Association, Prevention Institute, Public Citizen, and Corporate Accountability International.