Nestle has been criticized this week for failing to be part of an industry-wide effort to limit junk food marketing to children.
US Rep Edward Markey and separately the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and more than 30 other health and child advocacy organizations have urged Nestle's CEO Paul Bulcke to join the Council of Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.
The project aims to set nutrition standards for foods marketed to kids.
Thirteen major companies currently belong to the industry initiative, including Coca-Cola, Kraft, Cadbury Adams, Mars and Hershey.
"Nestle claims to be 'the world's leading nutrition, health, and wellness company', but when it comes to food marketing to kids, Nestle is a laggard not a leader," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G Wootan.
Nestle's commitment elsewhere
The international giant has signed similar agreements in Canada and Europe.
Last December, major global food companies signed a pledge to stop advertising 'junk' food to children under 12 in an effort to self-regulate and avoid a ban being imposed by the European Commission.
The pledge was signed by Nestle and nine other companies: Coca-Cola, Danone, Ferrero, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever and Burger King. It covers television, print and internet advertising.
And earlier this year, Nestle joined a number of leading food and beverage groups operating in Canada in plans to adapt their marketing amidst growing consumer and regulatory concerns over obesity levels in the country.
The project was initiated by national self-regulatory body, Advertising Standards Canada. Companies including Kraft, McDonald's, Kellogg and Nestle committed to adhere to guidelines restricting how their products can be promoted.
"If Nestle can pledge to cut back on junk-food marketing in Canada, why not in the United States?" said Edward Markey. "Given the high rates of obesity in the U.S., American kids need the same protections."
Initiatives to limit marketing to kids
Efforts have increased across the industry, and across the globe, to curb the growing prevalence of obesity.
An estimated 22m children under the age of five are overweight worldwide, according to the latest World Health Organization figuews.
In the USA the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has trebled since 1980.
There have long been signs that if the food industry as a whole fails to adequately step up to the issue with voluntary measures, it is highly likely that new regulations will be implemented to enforce advertising restrictions.
According to American law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can consider three methods to address the problem: it could place a ban on all junk food ads; it could limit the overall advertising minutes available for advertising to children; or it could disqualify broadcasters from renewing their licenses if children's programs are aired with junk food ads.