The 17 companies comprising the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) have reportedly agreed to abide by new uniform nutrition criteria as part of a voluntary effort to encourage healthier dietary choices among children. Under the new rules, CFBAI signatories have pledged not to market the following products to children: (i) juices with added sugars and more than 160 calories per serving, (ii) ready-to-drink flavored milks containing more than 24 grams of total sugars per 8 fluid ounces, and yogurt containing more than 170 calories and 23 g of total sugars per 6 ounces; (iii) seeds, nuts, nut butters, and spreads with more than 220 calories, 3.5 g of saturated fat, 240 milligrams of sodium, and 4 g of sugar per 2 tablespoons; and (iv) main dishes and entrees with more than 350 calories, 10 percent calories from saturated fat, 600 mg of sodium, and 15 g of sugar per serving. Seeds, nuts, nut butters, and spreads must also provide at least one ounce of protein equivalent, while main dishes and entrees must provide one or more serving of foods to encourage—that is, fruits, vegetables, non- or low-fat dairy, and whole grains—or at least one-half serving of these foods and at least 10 percent of the Daily Value of two essential nutrients. Grains, fruits and vegetable products with less than 150 calories must also contain “no more than 1.5 g of saturated fat, 290 mg of sodium and 10 g of sugar,” in addition to providing at least one-half serving of foods to encourage or 10 percent of the Daily Value of an essential nutrient.

As described in a July 14, 2011, white paper, these new requirements will affect approximately one-third of the products currently advertised to children and ideally result in their reformulation by the end of 2013. “These uniform nutrition criteria represent another huge step forward, further strengthening voluntary efforts to improve child-directed advertising,” said CFBAI Vice Present and Director Elaine Kolish in a July 14, 2011, press release. “Now foods from different companies, such as cereals or canned pastas, will meet the same nutrition criteria, rather than similar but slightly different company-specific criteria. The new criteria are comprehensive, establishing limits for calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and total sugars as well as requirements for nutrition components to encourage.”  

Meanwhile, consumer watchdogs like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have greeted the announcement with skepticism, describing the new pledge as “a transparent attempt to undermine the stronger standards proposed by the government’s Interagency Working Group,” which includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Calling on the food and media industries to adopt “the sensible nutrition standards” developed by these agencies, CSPI recently submitted comments to the Interagency Working Group in support of both its draft nutrition guidelines and marketing definitions, and urged the agencies to apply its nutrition standards to all marketing aimed at children younger than age 12. “This is a typical industry tactic of a pre-emptive move,” CPSI Director of Nutrition Policy Margo Wootan said of the CFBAI initiative in The New York Times. “Rather than have government come up with the standards for food marketing, they want to develop them themselves.” See CSPI Press Release and The New York Times, July 14, 2011.