Food marketers pledge to help stop childhood obesity

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Eleven major food marketers have pledged to help stop childhood obesity.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus announced 11 pledges approved under the CBBB's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. The announcement came during a forum called "Weighing In: A Check-Up on Marketing, Self-Regulation, and Childhood Obesity," jointly hosted by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Health and Human Services.

The purpose of the forum was to see whether food marketers were following self-regulatory guidelines first suggested by the FTC in 2005. Guidelines were laid out in an FTC report published in 2006.

In the report, the FTC suggested that participants:

--Devote at least half their advertising directed to children on television, radio, print and Internet to promote healthier dietary choices or to messages that encourage good nutrition or healthy lifestyles.

--Limit products shown in interactive games to healthier dietary choices or incorporate healthy lifestyle messages into the games.

--Not advertise food or beverage products in elementary schools.

--Not engage in food and beverage product placement in editorial and entertainment content.

--Reduce the use of third-party licensed characters in advertising that does not meet the initiative's product or messaging criteria.

The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative has approved pledges for Cadbury Adams, USA, LLC; Campbell Soup Co., The Coca-Cola Co., General Mills, Inc.; The Hershey Co., Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Inc.; McDonald's USA, LLC, PepsiCo Inc. and Unilever United States. These companies accounted for an estimated two-thirds of children's food and beverage television advertising expenditures in 2004.

"In 2005, FTC Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt challenged the advertising industry to review and strengthen industry self-regulation of children's food advertising in light of the growing concern about childhood obesity in our nation," said Steven J. Cole, president/CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureau, in a statement. "Today's commitments respond directly to that challenge."

These companies have pledged to focus essentially all of their advertising primarily directed to children under 12 on products meeting better-for-you standards or refrain from advertising to that age group.

"These expansive commitments significantly exceed [the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative] baseline requirements," Cole said." In addition, all participants will take the unprecedented step of voluntarily opening their commitments to the BBB's independent compliance monitoring and reporting."

Company commitments based on better-for-you dietary choices are required to be consistent with established scientific or government standards. The BBB will monitor and publicly report on the companies' compliance with their pledges.

Majoras was pleased with the initiative so far.

"The food company advertising pledges are a significant step forward in industry self-regulation," she said in a statement. "While changes in food marketing alone will not solve the nation's childhood obesity problem, these actions will help make a healthy choice the easy choice for parents and kids.

"The companies making these pledges account for about two-thirds of television food ads directed to kids; the companies responsible for the remaining one-third should not take a æwait and see' approach, but should join in this important self-regulatory effort," she added. "The Federal Trade Commission looks forward to the implementation of these pledges and will continue our efforts in this important area."

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