July 18, 2007 -- Eleven U.S. corporations formally agreed Wednesday to reduce or stop marketing unhealthy foods to children in an effort to help curb youth obesity.
The companies, representing some of the largest food and beverage manufacturers in the U.S., said they would curtail advertising of high-calorie, high-sugar food to children under 12. Most pledged to sell only healthier items to kids and said they would stop marketing foods in elementary schools.
The pledges were delivered through the Council of Better Business Bureaus at a forum on childhood obesity held by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.
Elaine Kolish, director of the Council of Better Business Bureaus' childhood advertising initiative, said the commitments would "improve the mix" of foods advertised to children under 12 and cut the number of food ads placed by the companies.
"These commitments effectively limit participating companies' advertising of snack foods and other food products to those that meet new or existing better-for-you nutrition criteria, and limit the advertising of cereals to those with 12 or fewer grams of sugar per serving," she said in a statement.
Several companies, including Kellogg Co., had already announced plans to scale back or eliminate marketing of high-sugar or high-fat food to younger children. That announcement helped stave off a threatened lawsuit from the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Margo Wootan, the group's head of nutrition policy, praised the agreements despite the earlier threat of litigation. She called Wednesday's pledges "a great step in the right direction."
"They got here and that's what matters to kids and parents," Wootan said.
As part of the agreement, Hershey Co. and Coca-Cola Co. pledged to eliminate all advertising directed at children under 12. McDonald's Corp. said it would limit marketing to children under 12 to foods meeting limited calorie, fat, and sugar standards.
Kraft Foods Inc., PepsiCo Inc., and cereal maker General Mills Inc. also said they would apply government-based nutrition standards to all foods targeted to children.
"We will keep encouraging children, through our advertising, to make better choices and to be active," Lance Friedman, Kraft's senior vice president, said in a statement.
Other companies in the agreement include Cadbury Adams USA, Campbell Soup Co., Mars Inc. and Unilever United States.
Coca-Cola said it would continue to market Gatorade sports drinks in schools but limit its marketing to advertising tied to physical activity. Wootan said she was disappointed that the drinks -- "sugar water with added salt" -- were not included in the company's announcement.
"I think sports drinks are one of the big problems here," she said.
Products affected by Wednesday's pledges number in the thousands, and it is unclear how each company's nutrition standards will affect the actual content of food it sells to children.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has sponsored legislation cracking down on child-directed food marketing, said he is "reserving judgment" on the nutritional content of food that is still sold to kids after each of the plans take effect.
"It is equally important that they are faithfully implemented and enforced," he told reporters.