Fox Guards Henhouse: Industry’s “Self-Regulation” of Children’s Food Advertising

by Bettina Elias Siegel on January 25, 2011

One kid-and-food news story that slipped by me last month was an update by the Council of Better Business Bureaus on the food industry’s efforts to self-regulate the advertising of junk foods to children.

By way of background, the BBB started its Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) in 2006 and there are currently seventeen food manufacturers participating in the effort.  [Full disclosure:  one of these companies was my former employer.]  Under their latest pledge, companies promise to either devote 100% of their child-directed advertising to “better-for-you” foods, or to not engage in such advertising at all.  (You can read the specifics here.)

BBB issued its latest report in mid-December, pronouncing the companies’ compliance in the prior year with their stated goals as “excellent,” noting, for example, that:

  • 75 percent of the ads were for products that provided at least 10 percent of the Daily Value of one nutrient that is a shortfall in kids’ diets or a half-serving of a food group to encourage;
  • 32 percent of  the ads included at least a half-serving of vegetables or fruit such as apples or applesauce;
  • 33 percent included milk or yogurt; and
  • 27 percent were for products or meals that provided at least 8 grams of whole grains/50 percent whole grains.

The report also notes that 52 percent of the cereals that participants advertise to kids contain no more than 10 grams of sugar. All of these cereals contain less than 130 calories and provide many essential vitamins and minerals; many contain a half-serving of whole grains and are a good source of Vitamin D.

This all sounds really great, doesn’t it?

Now let me show you some of the “better-for-you” products which CAN be freely advertised to kids under the CFBAI:

The obvious problem, of course, is that major food manufacturers make manufactured foods, not the whole foods we’d all like to see advertised to children (if there has to be advertising at all).  Even so, one has to question the nutritional criteria (which are formulated by each individual company, by the way) that would produce a photo gallery like the one above.  And believe me — I could have added photos of  many, many more equally hair-raising products.

For a little taste of Orwell’s 1984, check out the entire CFBAI “Better-for-You Product List.”  “Better-for-you” than what, exactly?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Bri January 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Oh my goodness…just looking at those products makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. Better for you than WHAT, indeed! This is why I’ve undertaken the Kids’ Meal Makeover challenge on my blog… because it’s apparently possible for these big food companies, and their marketing departments, to say “these processed foodlike substances are fortified with nutrients, and therefore should be encouraged!” with a straight face.

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Dr. Susan Rubin January 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

This is Groundhog Day! I was at the FTC 2006 event in DC where the BBB and the food industry patted itself on their backs. It was captured on film for all the world to see. You can see my cameo appearance in the movie Killer at Large. I stood up and said some choice words in the middle of the love fest between the food industry and our government.

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bettina elias siegel January 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Susan: I’d like to see that!

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Timmi January 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I love the fact that I don’t have tv! My kids can’t see all that crap that comes on during commercials.

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Karen January 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I would love to live in a world where achieving 75% of some goal equalled “excellent,” not to mention the other statistics you listed, which are all below 55%.

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jenna Food w/ Kid Appeal January 26, 2011 at 9:30 am

cupcake pebbles? for breakfast? nuff said.

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jenna Food w/ Kid Appeal January 26, 2011 at 9:35 am

bettina – are you on the radar for first lady’s Lets Move campaign? Her peeps should see this. Maybe Michelle can make those naughty food companies behave.

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Dr. Susan Rubin January 26, 2011 at 10:24 am

Jenna, the first lady has to walk a very fine tightrope and really cannot call those naughty food corporations out on their stuff! Jamie Oliver has a tough time too because of food industry sponsors on ABC. WE are ones who must call the food industry on their stuff!

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bettina elias siegel January 27, 2011 at 7:58 am

Jenna: Would love it if I WERE on Mrs. O’s radar but that seems unlikely! :-)

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Amelia (Eating Made Easy) March 16, 2011 at 11:45 am

What horrendous foods are these foods “better than”?? I wouldn’t say any of these even qualify as food!! In situations like these, I try to remind myself that progress is always slow. Hopefully we’re at least moving in the right direction…namely, soon fruit & veggie producers will be subsidized and able to market REAL healthy foods to kids!

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