WASHINGTON – Last week the Federal Trade Commission issued "preliminary proposed nutrition principles" that outline strict new voluntary standards for how companies market food to children ages 2 to 17, according to the National Restaurant Association. The principles were created by an interagency working group that included representatives from FTC, US Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Congress mandated the study in the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and former Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) led the effort for a study.

Federal agencies still consider a voluntary approach by food companies and restaurants preferable to government restrictions on how companies market their food and beverages to children and teens, the Working Group's study states. But the agencies want to encourage a "substantial expansion" of food companies' current self-regulatory programs.

The US food industry should make significant improvements in the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children and adolescents ages 2 to 17, the Working Group recommended. All food products within the categories most heavily marketed directly to children (such as breakfast cereals, carbonated beverages, restaurant foods and snack foods) should meet two basic nutritional principles by 2016, the group recommends. Such foods should be formulated to make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet; and minimize consumption of foods with significant amounts of nutrients that could have a negative impact on health or weight – specifically, sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugars.

The Working Group has proposed 10 years for companies to hit the proposed sodium targets.

According to the Working Group's proposed definition of marketing to children, it is defined to encompass all types of promotional activities directed to youth incorporating 20 categories of advertising, marketing and promotional activities.

June 13 is the deadline for comments on the FTC recommendations.