Food companies promise to limit advertising to kids

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NEW YORK – Aiming to battle growing childhood obesity in the U.S., McDonald’s Corp., Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods Inc. and other companies have pledged to either ban advertising to children under 12 or limit ads to foods and snacks that meet certain nutritional guidelines, the Council of Better Business Bureaus said Wednesday.

Cereal makers Kellogg Co., General Mills Inc. and Kraft, which makes the Post brand, have agreed not to advertise cereals containing more than 12 grams of sugar to children, the council said.

Other food and drink companies, including PepsiCo Inc., Hershey Co. and Campbell Soup Co., have also made their own pledges, which were announced at a joint forum hosted by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Health and Human Services.

In all, the 11 companies joining the accord represent about two-thirds of spending on food-and-beverage television advertising to kids, the council said. They will for the first time voluntarily open their pledges to independent compliance monitoring and reporting, the council said.

The announcements came after the FTC and HHS in 2005 challenged the food and drink industry to enhance self-regulation of advertising to kids.

In November 2006, companies agreed to devote at least half their advertising budgets to kids under 12 to products that promote healthier diets and lifestyles.

About one-fifth of U.S. kids aged 6 to 11 were overweight during the 2003-2004 period, up from 4 percent from 1971 to 1974, according to National Center for Health Statistics data. Food companies have also increasingly put the faces of characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants on packaging for healthier foods such as fresh peaches and bagged grapes.

“The market for healthier products is increasingly competitive, and we are seeing more and more companies move to reformulate or create new products in response to growing consumer demand,” said C. Lee Peeler, the council’s executive vice president of national advertising.

Kellogg, the No. 1 U.S. cereal maker, in June said it would either reformulate its foods or stop advertising to kids foods that fail to meet certain criteria, such as having more than 200 calories or more than 12 grams of sugar.

That announcement came after the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood last year threatened to sue Kellogg for marketing junk food to kids. The parties have since agreed not to proceed with a lawsuit after Kellogg’s June announcement.

Noting specific examples of products covered by the initiative, the CBBB said that Baked Cheetos and Gatorade are the only products Pepsi would advertise to kids under 12.

McDonald’s will highlight a Happy Meal made with white-meat chicken, while Coke will continue its practice of not advertising on programs for kids under 12.

Other companies making the pledges include the Cadbury Adams USA unit of Cadbury Schweppes Plc, closely held Mars Inc. and Unilever.

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