Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative

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The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) is a voluntary code pertaining to the fast food industry that was launched in 2006 by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Under the terms of the Initiative, participating companies agree to devote at least 50 percent of their advertising directed towards children under 12 to promote healthier dietary choices and to use messaging that encourages good nutrition or healthy lifestyles. The criteria defining healthier products under the Initiative must be consistent with established scientific and/or government standards, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid, and Food and Drug Administration standards for health claims. Each company prepares a Pledge that describes its commitment, and the Pledge must be approved by the Initiative staff. The Pledges are available for public viewing on the BBB web site after they have been approved.[1]

Corporations and industries typically enact such voluntary "initiatives," or codes of conduct when they are faced with public efforts to tax or regulate some harmful aspect of their business. Such voluntary codes create the illusion of responsible behavior by the industry, while minimally hampering its advertising, sales or marketing practices while at the same time tamping down public discontent and staving off government legislation to regulate their behavior.[2]


  • Companies participating in the CFBAI agree not to advertise food or beverage products in elementary schools.
  • Companies also agree to reduce the use of third-party licensed (e.g. cartoon) characters in advertising primarily directed to children under 12 that does not meet the Initiative's product or messaging criteria;
  • Companies agree to not pay for, or actively seek placement for food and beverage products in editorial or entertainment content that is primarily directed to children under 12;
  • Change interactive games that are primarily directed to children and that include the company’s food or beverage brands to incorporate healthier foods or healthier lifestyle messages in the games.

The Code governs advertising practices, but does not affect the quality of the food or its nutritional value, or point-of-sale marketing practices.


Companies that have taken the pledge include Sara Lee, Burger King, Campbell Soup, ConAgra, Dannon, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonalds, Nestle USA, PepsiCo, Post Foods, and Unilever U.S. Four other companies joined the initiative and pledged to stop all advertising to children under the age of 12: Coca-Cola, Hershey, Mars, and Cadbury Adams.[3]


The Initiative is monitored by Initiative staff at the BBB. Sanction for non-compliance is merely exclusion from the Initiative and/or BBB. No fines or other penalties are implemented. As with most voluntary codes, enforcement is reactive rather than proactive (e.g., complaint-driven).


Studies show that the CFBAI has failed to work, and that fast food companies still engage in practices that undermine healthy nutritional choices for kids. For example, Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a study that showed that between 2007 and 2009 (after the code went into effect) fast food companies increased the amount of advertising aimed at kids, and that they often employ tricky, point-of-sale marketing practices that circumvent the Initiative and undermine the companies' purported efforts to improve children's nutrition.

The Rudd Center concluded that despite the Initiative, fast food companies "speak to children early, often, and when parents are not looking." They also stated that, "Fast food is the most unhealthy food product marketed to children, other than sugar-sweetened beverages, and is relentlessly and aggressively targeted toward children starting as young as age two. Food marketing to children negatively influences the dietary choices and health of society's most vulnerable citizens. Given the childhood obesity epidemic at hand, we need meaningful solutions and real change." [4]

Evading the Initiative

For the Yale study, researchers looked at the marketing practices of 12 national fast food chains and evaluated nutritional data -- like sugar, saturated fat and total calorie -- for over 3,000 children's meal combos and 2,781 total menu items. Out of 3,039 possible meal combinations, only 12 met the nutritional standards set by the Institute of Medicine for preschoolers, and only 15 met the criteria for older children. They also found that children as young as two years were seeing more fast food ads than ever before. Researchers found that in 2009, preschoolers were exposed to 56% more ads for Subway, 21% more ads for McDonalds and 9% more ads for Burger King than in 2007. Slightly older kids saw even more fast food ads, and African-American youth were exposed to at least 50 percent more fast food ads than white youth. Ads targeted at preschoolers focus more on building name recognition and brand loyalty instead of promoting specific menu items. Fast food companies also have moved beyond television ads in their advertising practices. For example, McDonalds has 13 Web sites that get 365,000 unique child visitors between the ages of 2 and 11 and 294,000 unique visits form teens ages 12-18 every month. McDonalds starts targeting kids as young as age 2 with websites like

In addition, researchers found that fast food companies also engage in point-of-sale practices that undermine healthy nutritional practices. Despite that most fast food restaurants have at least one healthful side dish and beverage available on their menus, and even though their ads show healthful food options as side dishes, most restaurants' default practice is to serve French fries as a side 86% of the time, and sugary drinks at least 55% of the time. Instead of eliminating their biggest sides and drinks, for example, companies merely rename them. At Burger King, what used to be a 42-ounce "King" sized drink is now called a "Large," their former 32-ounce "Large" size is now called a "medium," and the former 21-ounce medium-sized drink is now called "small." After sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food is the biggest contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic. [5]

Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. Better Business Bureau Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, Web site, accessed November 8, 2010
  2. Yussuf Saloojee, Ross Hammond, World Health Organization Fatal Deception: The tobacco industry’s “new” global standards for tobacco marketing Report. 2001. 22 pp.
  3. Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP, Association of Corporate Counsel Sara Lee Limits Marketing to Kids, Press release, October 14, 2010
  4. Rudd Center Fast Food Facts, Web site, accessed November 8, 2010
  5. Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications Fast Food Restaurants Dish Up Unhealthy Marketing to Youth; Researchers Release Unprecedented Report on Fast Food Nutrition and Marketing, November 8, 2010