A Federal Communications Commission official is pushing a proposal to ban interactive ads targeting children. FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein’s call for regulation came amid the latest in a series of public meetings to address childhood obesity and its alleged link to food advertising.

“With the growing convergence of TV and the Internet, we need to set the rules before interactive advertising becomes an established business model,” Commissioner Adelstein stated, speaking at the Vanderbilt Forum on Pediatric Obesity in October. The FCC “tentatively” concluded in 2004 that interactive ads targeting children should be banned, he noted. “[W]e need to act quickly … to implement sensible restrictions on interactive ads targeting children.”

Commissioner Adelstein dished up some harsh criticism of the food marketing industry. “The facts show that a vast majority of the food marketed to children are high in calories, high in sugar or salt, and low in nutritional value,” he stated. He pointed to the recent campaign for Frosted Flakes featuring Olympian Michael Phelps. “Trying to make Frosted Flakes this generation’s ‘breakfast of champions’ is symptomatic of this age of hyper-commercialism, which has contributed to childhood obesity.”

Parents feel inundated by the “seemingly relentless march of material that is too commercial, unhealthful, violent, or sexual for their children,” charged Commissioner Adelstein, himself a parent. In addition to banning interactive marketing efforts (such as TV ads that point kids to websites), Commissioner Adelstein suggested the FCC should clarify its guidelines concerning what constitutes “educational content” for purposes of children’s television regulations, and allocate resources toward educating the public on health and media issues.

FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, who also spoke at the Vanderbilt conference, did not call for regulation but instead urged the private sector to continue to make self-regulatory strides. A member of the public-private Joint Task Force on Childhood Obesity, Commissioner Tate noted with approval efforts such as the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, under which advertisers voluntarily agree to limit their advertising to primarily healthier food and beverage products.