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Wednesday, November 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Food companies to focus on health in ads targeting kids

The Associated Press

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — Ten major food and drink makers, including McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Campbell Soup, announced Tuesday that their child-oriented advertising will do more to promote healthful foods and exercise.

The companies, which account for two-thirds of child-targeted food and drink commercials on TV, agreed to reduce the use of outside characters — such as Shrek and the Little Mermaid — to pitch unhealthful foods. They also said they would not advertise in elementary schools and would ensure that their online "advergames" either promote good health or healthful products, among other measures. Half their ads will focus on foods that qualify as healthful or on nutrition and exercise issues.

The companies said they had no plans to stop selling or promoting sugary cereals or fatty French fries, and critics said the voluntary restrictions will have little effect.

"The only changes from the status quo in these guidelines occur at the fringes," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "If a 'healthy lifestyle message' means that Ronald McDonald is pedaling a bike while peddling junk food, that message still does more harm than good."

The companies' announcement comes a month after five big snack-food companies agreed to voluntary restrictions on food they sell in schools as national concern about childhood obesity mounts.

"It would be a huge benefit for kids to get messages about good lifestyles and exercise," said C. Lee Peeler, executive vice president at the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which is to monitor compliance with the voluntary rules. "It's a major step forward by the industry."

Besides McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Campbell, the companies that agreed to the self-regulation are: Cadbury Schweppes, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, PepsiCo and Unilever.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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