The Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative was created in 2006 by ten major US food and beverage companies which pledged to alter their advertising to children. The idea was to see if self-regulation could do more to address the concerns about child-directed food and drink advertising and childhood obesity, which are high in the US.
A review has showed that after the first six months, “pledge compliance is excellent and that the landscape of children’s advertising has already changed significantly”.
The scheme was initially joined by companies such as Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Hershey, Mars, Kraft and Unilever but major companies including Nestlé and Dannon, had declined.
Now Nestlé USA has become the 14th participant and BBB said it anticipates announcing the details of the company’s pledge within the next three months.
Brad Alford, Chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA, said: “Nestlé is committed to responsible advertising to consumers, and we believe that companies like ours do play an important role in offering healthy dietary choices and lifestyles for children.
“We believe joining this initiative is important, and a positive move in continuing our journey to become a Nutrition, Health & Wellness company.”
A spokeswoman for Nestle added that they had waited to make sure the pledge was in alignment with its global guidelines on advertising to children, which has just been revised, before signing up to the scheme.
How companies measured up
The report called, Changing the Landscape of Food & Beverage Advertising: The Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative In Action, looked at pledges to be implemented before December 2007.
It focused on Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Hershey, Kraft, Mars and Unilever US, as they are the six participants that implemented their pledges between last July and December. The report concludes that these participants successfully implemented their pledges not to advertise to children under 12, or only advertise products that meet specific better-for-you criteria.
Under the scheme, better-for-you foods must fit criteria that are consistent with established scientific and/or government standards and recommendations. The report said that although the participants’ criteria differ, they share many common characteristics. For example, the total fat guidelines are all within the recommendations of the HHS/USDA 2005 Dietary Guidelines and the sugar criteria are all within generally used and accepted limits.
It found that Coca-Cola, Hershey and Mars fulfilled their pledges not to engage in any child-directed advertising in media covered by the initiative. Kraft met its pledge to limit all child-directed advertising to better-for-you products.
Campbell Soup Company and Unilever also met their pledges to limit child-directed advertising to better-for-you foods. However, it said that in a few instances, food products that did not meet the nutrition criteria appeared on their child-directed websites. The two companies “immediately removed the products after being notified by BBB or upon their own discovery of the materials”.
There was also an update on the progress of Burger King Corp, Cadbury Adams USA, General Mills, Kellogg Company, McDonald’s USA, and PepsiCo over the six months. It said they are currently in the process of implementing their pledges and many have already taken steps to change or develop new product offerings, reformulate recipes, promote nutrition and healthy lifestyle messages, and adjust their child-directed advertising strategies. ConAgra Foods made its pledge in 2008 so was not included in the report.
BBB now plans to expand company participation and monitor developments in nutrition science and government recommendations to ensure that the participants’ better-for-you standards will continue to be grounded in science.
An estimated 22m children under the age of five are overweight worldwide, according to the latest World Health Organization figures. In the USA the number of overweight children has doubled since 1980.
In 2006 approximately $1.6bn was spent by 44 major food and beverage marketers to promote their products to children and adolescents, according to a separate report, “Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents: A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities and Self-Regulation,” from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for Congress.
It found that $745m was spent on television advertising in 2006, with more than $208m in cross-promotions, linking food and beverage products to animated characters for example.
It said the situation has improved since the BBB initiative but identified the need for “meaningful” nutrition-based standards across all advertising and promotional techniques. Meanwhile, it suggests companies should improve the nutritional profiles of products marketed to children and adolescents in a bid to combat obesity levels.
The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) has called for a more science-based and consistent nutrition standard for foods marketed to children and adolescents and expressed caution about the variation between companies in developing them.
It wants all foods marketed to children aged eight years and older to meet a “single, science-based nutrition standard that is consistent with the recommendation in the 2005 US Dietary Guidelines and the IOM report Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools”.