Sara Lee Corp. has joined the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), bringing the number of participating companies to 17.
The Council of Better Business Bureaus initiative, which had 10 corporate participants at its launch in 2006, seeks to address the problem of childhood obesity by self-regulating advertising to children under 12.
Four companies' pledges call for no advertising to children under 12 (Coca-Cola, Hershey, Mars and Cadbury Adams). The other 13 -- now including Sara Lee, as well as Burger King, Campbell Soup, ConAgra, Dannon, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, Nestle USA, PepsiCo, Post Foods and Unilever U.S. -- have pledged to advertise only foods/beverages that meet "science-based nutritional standards" reviewed and approved by BBB.
Companies advertising to this age group propose the specific nutritional standards to which they pledge to adhere, but all products advertised must meet government standards defining the term "healthy" or American Heart Association HeartCheck standards, according to BBB. Individual participants' standards are posted on BBB's CFBAI site. BBB monitors compliance/progress and issues periodic public reports.
The advertising pledges span most traditional and digital media, including company-owned and third-party Web sites, interactive games, mobile media and child-oriented movie DVDs, and also covers word-of-mouth marketing. Product packaging, in-store displays and sponsorships are not included.
All participants pledge not to use product placement in child-directed editorial or program content, not to advertise food/beverages in schools spanning pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, and to restrict use of third-party licensed characters in children's advertising to products meeting their own pledged "better for you" product nutrition criteria.
Some participants used to apply their pledged standards only when at least half of the targeted audience consisted of children under 12. However, according to BBB, virtually all participants are now applying their standards using an audience threshold of no higher than 35% of children under 12 within the targeted audience.
CFBAI also announced that, because most participants now have policies stating that they will not advertise to children under age six, BBB will begin monitoring and reporting on compliance with those policies as of next year.
To date, participants have reformulated or created at least 100 products to meet their standards, and at least 30 products that already met nutrition standards were further enhanced, according to BBB.
A CFBAI compliance progress report issued in October 2009, covering 2008 advertising, showed 12 of the then-15 participants having implemented their pledges, and "excellent" compliance levels.
In November 2009, an analysis conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) confirmed that products being advertised by CFBAI participant companies were meeting their own pledged nutritional standards. However, it emphasized that 59% of the approved products did not meet a set of standards developed by nutrition/health experts, based on the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity's school wellness model nutrition standards (which reflect Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations). CSPI characterized these 59% of products as being "of poor nutritional quality."
CSPI recommended that CFBAI guidelines be revised to require that all participating companies comply with a single set of nutritional standards, such as those being developed by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (comprising the FTC, FDA, USDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). That group issued "Tentative Proposed Nutrition Standards" late last year.
Early this month, the FTC issued subpoenas to 48 food/beverage companies as part of its research for a follow-up to its 2008 report on food/beverage industry spending, methods and self-regulation in regard to food marketing to children and adolescents. In issuing the subpoenas, the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices/Bureau of Consumer Protection confirmed that it continues to support voluntary industry self-regulation efforts and does not intend to propose federal regulations, but is instead seeking to measure the results of self-regulation and determine if stronger industry efforts are needed. Currently, Congressional action leading to rule-making hearings appears unlikely, according to regulatory watchers.
However, issues relating to food/beverage marketing to children continue to draw growing scrutiny as a result of growing public awareness and concern about childhood obesity, in part driven by the presidential Task Force on Childhood Obesity and First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Campaign.
Further, the FTC has become significantly more active in monitoring advertising to children and issuing warning letters to companies making misleading or inadequately supported health-benefits and other product claims. The agency issued such warnings to 11 companies in January, and in June, an official FTC statement confirmed that the agency "will act swiftly to challenge questionable health claims about children's food products."
FTC officials have also made public statements criticizing fast-food chains, including Yum Brands, Chuck E. Cheese and IHOP, for failing to participate in CFBAI.