The Council of Better Business Bureaus' voluntary, self-regulatory Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) has announced that it has created a new, uniform, category-specific set of nutritional criteria for foods advertised to children by its member food/restaurant companies.
The new standards, while not specifically described as such, are clearly intended to present an alternative to the voluntary nutrition and marketing-to-children guidelines proposed by the Interagency Working Group (IWG) comprising the Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The new CFBAI standards will replace its current system, which allows individual members to use company-specific, self-established definitions of the "healthy" or "better-for-you" foods they advertise to children under 12. CFBAI's current principles require that members use "scientific and/or government standards" to create their individual food definitions, such as "healthy" foods as defined by the Food and Drug Administration; products that qualify for an FDA-authorized health claim; or products meeting FDA/USDA criteria for claims of "free," "low" or "reduced" calories, total fat, saturated fat, sodium or sugar.
The new criteria, which specify separate nutritional standards for each of 10 product categories, will go into effect no later than Dec. 31, 2013 -- meaning that member companies have agreed that after that date, they will not advertise to children any foods that do not meet the criteria.
CFBAI's 17 members -- the companies that do "the vast majority" of food/beverage advertising to kids, notes the Initiative -- include McDonald's USA, Burger King Corp. and 14 of the largest food/beverage companies: Cadbury Adams USA, Campbell Soup Company, Coca-Cola Company, ConAgra Foods, Inc., The Dannon Company, General Mills, Inc., The Hershey Company, Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods Global, Inc., Mars, Inc., Nestlé USA, PepsiCo, Inc., Post Foods, Sara Lee Corp. and Unilever United States.
According to CFBAI, the new criteria are based on "food science" and U.S. dietary guidelines, and "fill in gaps" in its current system by establishing category-specific limits for calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and total sugars, plus requirements for "nutrition components to encourage." They also eliminate companies' ability to define products as acceptable for advertising based solely on a product's meeting a "reduced" claim (e.g., "25% less sodium") or being marketed in portion-controlled (e.g., "100-calorie") packages.
In development for a year, the criteria "represent a huge step forward" in "further strengthening" major food/beverage companies' voluntary efforts to improve the nutrition of the foods they advertise to kids, said CFBAI VP, director Elaine Kolish.
The new criteria will require many companies to change the formulations of existing products, since about one-third of products currently being advertised to children do not meet the new standards, according to CFBAI.
The standards are designed to include "challenging yet feasible" goals, and to take into account "the real-world difficulties of changing recipes of well-known foods," as well as to encourage development of new products with less sodium, saturated fat, sugar and calories, CFBAI says. The standards also "recognize the inherent differences in food categories and their roles in the diet."
CBAI's announcement includes an endorsement from Eric Decker, chairman of the Department of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a member of the Institute of Medicine's Committee on School Foods. "Having criteria that are balanced for both nutritional significance and yet allow inclusion of foods that taste good and are affordable is critical because, no matter how healthy a food is, if it's not consumed, it will not improve health and wellness," Decker states. "These criteria strike that balance."
The 10 product categories with individual standards are juices; dairy products; grains, fruits and vegetable products; soups and meal sauces; seeds, nuts, nut butters and spreads; meat, fish and poultry products; mixed dishes; main dishes and entrees; small meals; and meals.
Examples of category requirements: Juices can't contain added sugars, or have more than 100 calories per serving; a serving of kids' breakfast cereal that has 150 or fewer calories can't exceed 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 290 milligrams of sodium and 10 grams of sugar (cereals with 150 to 200 calories are allowed proportionately higher limits); a serving of spreads such as peanut butters can't exceed 220 calories, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 240 milligrams of sodium and 4 grams of sugar per two tablespoons; and servings of main dishes/entrées (like canned pasta) can't exceed 350 calories (no more than 10% of which are from saturated fat), 600 milligrams of sodium, and 15 grams of sugar.
Full specifics are available in CFBAI's downloadable white paper.
CSPI Issues Critical Analysis of CFBAI Standards
Shortly after CFBAI's announcement, nutrition advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued an analysis of the new CFBAI criteria, comparing these to the nutrition guidelines proposed by the government agencies.
In a statement summarizing its analysis, CSPI calls CFBAI's new self-regulatory standards "a transparent attempt to undermine the stronger standards proposed by the government's Interagency Working Group."
"If the industry adopts its own proposed standards, young children would continue to be bombarded with ads for such junk foods as Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisps, Reese's Puffs, Corn Pops cereals, Kool-Aid, many Lunchables, and sugary Popsicles," CSPI maintains.
"It's great news that, at long last, the industry realizes that the current patchwork of inconsistent company pledges is not working, and that industry-wide nutrition guidelines are needed," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. However, she said, "we, along with many national health and medical organizations, call on the food and media industries to voluntarily adopt the sensible nutrition standards developed by the government agencies."
CSPI's analysis concludes that while "many CFBAI-approved products meet the individual IWG-proposed standards for saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars or sodium," they fall short "in providing a positive nutritional contribution to children's diets -- they are often devoid of or too low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy" and other healthful nutrients. The new standards allow marketers to include foods of "poor nutritional value" by using "artificial fortification," CSPI stated.
CSPI also accused the food industry of making false statements about the nature of IWG's proposed guidelines in order to "preserve its ability to spend $2 billion a year advertising things like Popsicle's SpongeBob SquarePants Pop-Ups to impressionable young children."
The industry "lost major credibility" with statements that the Obama administration is attempting to "ban advertising of whole wheat bread, peanut butter or other healthy foods to kids," and by issuing a "bogus study falsely claiming that the sensible, science-based standards backed by the government would result in job losses," CSPI charged.
Yesterday, CSPI, the American Heart Association, the American Public Health Association, the National PTA and some 80 other health/ advocacy groups and nutritional experts filed comments strongly supporting the IWG's proposed nutrition guidelines and marketing definitions. CSPI also filed detailed comments on the IWG proposals, urging the agencies to apply the nutrition guidelines to all marketing aimed at children under 12 years old, as well as marketing in schools (preschool through high school levels).