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Tracking How Industry Responds

In response to criticism about the way unhealthy food is marketed to children, some major food companies have announced initiatives either to limit advertising to young children or to change their products. Here are summaries of some recent industry efforts to address childhood obesity.

Kellogg’s Sets Nutrition Restrictions on Food Marketed to Children

June 2007: Kellogg Company announced that by the end of 2008 it would no longer advertise its products to children under age 12 unless the products met the following company-developed standards per serving: less than 200 calories, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 230 milligrams of sodium, and less than 12 grams of sugar. (Kellogg’s said it already does not target advertising at children younger than 6.) The company also plans to stop using licensed characters to advertise products that do not meet these standards. In addition, Kellogg’s has also announced new nutrient labeling on the front of cereal boxes that features the percent of daily calorie, fat and sodium and grams of sugar per serving.

Unilever to Restrict Ads targeted at Children Under 12

May 2007: Unilever announced that by the end of 2008, only its “healthier” products would be advertised to children from ages 6 to 11. Products advertised to children must have less than 15 percent of calories from saturated fat and less than 25 percent of calories from sugar. Unilever also announced that it would stop using extremely thin models and actors, instead using only those with a BMI in the normal range.

Masterfoods to Restrict Ads Targeted at Children Under 12

February 2007: In a letter to a European Union commissioner published by the UK newspaper Financial Times, Masterfoods stated that it would stop targeting ads for its products, which include Snickers and M&M candies, to children younger than 12 by the end of 2007.

Industry Sets Goals for Advertising to Children

November 2006: The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) and the National Advertising Review Council (NARC) announced the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, an agreement with 10 major food companies to increase the percentage of “healthy” foods in advertisements targeting children younger than 12. As part of the initiative, the ten companies -- Cadbury Schweppes USA, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, McDonald's, PepsiCo, and Unilever -- agreed to issue their own advertising standards meeting the goals of the initiative. In addition to changing the product mix in ads targeted at children, the companies agreed to stop advertising their products in elementary schools and to stop deals for product placement in TV shows and movies. The companies involved in the initiative account for two-thirds of food advertising on television in the United States.

Beverage Industry Sets School Beverage Guidelines

May 2006: The American Beverage Association agreed to guidelines created by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation that will limit portion sizes and the number of calories available to children during the school day. Beverages sold in elementary schools must be either water, plain or flavored non-fat or low-fat milk, or 100 percent juice in 8-ounce sizes. Middle schools have the same guidelines but can sell 10-ounce bottles. High schools, along with increasing the portion size to 12 ounces, can sell diet soda and sports drinks with fewer than 66 calories per 8 ounces.

Kraft Foods Announces Marketing Changes to Emphasize More Nutritious Products

January 2005: Kraft announced that it will implement a “Sensible Solutions” labeling program in the U.S. to identify foods and beverages that meet specific nutrition standards based on 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Kraft will market only products with the Sensible Solutions label to children ages 6 to 11. The company does not target ads at children younger than 6 years of age.

American Beverage Association Announces Labeling Changes

February 2010: The beverage industry has partnered with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to provide consumers with improved nutrition information on its products. Consumers will see calorie counts on the front of labels, vending machines, and fountain machines. The industry also pledged to reduce beverage calories, market low-calorie products, and investigate additional front-of-package labels.

McDonald’s Alters Happy Meals

August 2011: In response to pressure from parents, consumers, and health officials, McDonald’s announced that it would change the composition of its Happy Meals. The effort aims to improve the Happy Meal’s nutritional quality by reducing the amount of French fries, adding a fruit or vegetable, and reducing the calories, sodium, and fat in each meal.

Disney Reduces Food Marketing to Children

June 2012: Disney announced that food advertised to children on its many media platforms will have to meet healthier standards. The new guidelines, set to go into effect by 2015, are designed to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables and reduce the intake of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.

Coca-Cola Addresses Obesity

January 2013: Coca-Cola launched an ad campaign that promotes its efforts in fighting obesity. The two-minute commercial, called “Coming Together,” airs on national cable news and highlights Coca-Cola’s low- and no-calorie beverages. It also informs viewers that "all calories count no matter where they come from" and that "if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you'll gain weight."