Major global food companies have this week signed a pledge to stop advertising 'junk' food to children under 12, in an effort to self-regulate and avoid a ban being imposed by the European Commission.
In 2005 EU health and consumer affairs commissioner Markos Kyprianou gave stark warning to the food industry that they must restrict advertising of products that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) to children, or face legislation.
The pledge has been signed by ten companies: Coca-Cola, Danone, Ferrero, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever and Burger King. It covers television, print and internet advertising.
The wording of the pledge has not been seen by FoodNavigator.com, but Kellogg's confirmed its signature on Monday and said the provisions set out in it are in line with those of its own Consumer Communication Principals.
While these principals do not actually include reference to advertising to children, they do contain other messages that could counter obesity, such as the requirement that food advertising should depict moderation in food consumption, including moderate portion sizes and portion sizes appropriate to the target audience and social context.
They also say that, wherever possible and appropriate, advertising should depict an active, rather than a sedentary lifestyle.
According to The Financial Times, compliance by the pledge signatories will be monitored by independent bodies.
The newspaper also called the pledge "the first serious attempt by food groups to tackle one of the causes of childhood obesity".
However a spokesperson for the CIAA (Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU) pointed out to FoodNavigator.com that it took the initiative to draw up some principals on advertising in 2004, which have been adopted by some companies.
"The food industry has demonstrated quite clearly that we are serious about tackling obesity," she said.
For instance the CIAA drew up a voluntary labelling scheme for food products based on guidance daily amounts (GDAs), which has been taken up by a number of manufacturers.
There are also education and consumer education efforts underway, and reformulation and healthy innovation are major themes for the industry.
A working group of the International Obesity taskforce has also developed a set of principals to guide action on reducing commercial food and drink promotions that target children, known as the Sydney Principals
In the UK, the first stage of television advertising restrictions of HFSS foods came into effect on April 1. Adverts of such foods are not be permitted in or around programmes made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to nine.
The restrictions are due to be extended to children under the age of 16 years as of January 2008.
In the US, the Council of Better Business Bureau set up a Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative last year as a voluntary self-regulation program for industry, with the same aim of avoiding legislation.
Participants adopted nutrition standards for all marketing aimed at children, and also committed to devote at least half of their kids' advertising to promote healthier products, good nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
Thirteen companies are now participating in the scheme: Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, PepsiCo, Unilever, Masterfoods, Burger King, and ConAgra.