WASHINGTON – Health experts long have known there is a worrisome link between television and the food American kids consume. But now the federal government is taking aim at the media’s role in childhood obesity. A 30-member task force led by the Federal Communications Commission is tentatively poised to hold its first official meeting next month. And advocates say the panel represents the best chance yet to promote active lifestyles and healthier eating habits. Still, medical experts say those changes won’t happen without significant shifts in the way food manufacturers and the television industry market their products. With the Bush administration adamantly opposed to any new regulations – calling instead for voluntary measures – some already are questioning how far the task force will go. “We’ve got to get the marketing effort of America’s corporations to promote healthy foods,” said Dale Kunkel, a professor of communications at the University of Arizona who has studied the media’s role in contributing to the obesity epidemic. “The task force has to focus on the role of food marketing to television, which is the medium children spend more time with than any medium.” According to the Institute of Medicine, the food and beverage industry spends about $15 billion annually on food marketing to children. Meanwhile, of the estimated 40,000 commercials the average child sees each year, half advertise food. Of those, the vast majority promote high-calorie food and drinks like candy, soda and sweetened breakfast cereals. The American Obesity Association estimates that 15.3 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 are obese, and the percentage is slightly higher for adolescents. Neither food marketers involved in the task force – including Kraft, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s – nor television industry representatives from Disney or Viacom returned calls about their role in fighting obesity. Health advocates say they hope the corporate world is prepared to do more than offer public service announcements. “If you send one good message, but at the same time it’s contradicted by everything else you’re doing, that is not going to lead to success,” said Robert Kesten, executive director of the Center for Screen Time Awareness and a member of the task force. Americans watch an average of four and a half hours of television each day, and Kesten’s organization encourages limiting that – a tactic advertisers likely won’t be eager to endorse. Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, a conservative watchdog group that also is represented on the task force, said he’s intent on helping the industry avoid regulation. But, he added, the threat of government interference can still be a powerful weapon. Winter noted that much of the current voluntary guidelines the tobacco industry follows in limiting marketing to children were implemented by the feds “with a bayonet tip pointed at their keister.” [email protected] (202) 662-8731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!