Summary of presentation by Elaine Kolish

In 2006 the Better Business Bureau and leading food companies, following calls from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for more self-regulation of food advertising to children, joined forces to create CFBAI. The goals of the initiative were to focus on what foods are advertised to children, with an eye to changing the mix toward healthier options, and to bring transparency and accountability to company commitments. CFBAI currently has 16 participants and tries to recruit new participants on an ongoing basis.

CFBAI’s requirements have evolved since its 2006 launch. Since January 2010, it has required that its participants include only healthier foods (ones that meet specified nutrition criteria) in child-directed advertising or not engage in advertising targeting children. In September 2010, CFBAI harmonized the definition of child-directed advertising so that it covers ads in programs with 35 percent or more child viewers (participants using a 50 percent definition moved to 35 percent). Starting in 2014, participants will implement CFBAI-developed uniform nutrition criteria to replace their company-specific criteria. The initiative also has expanded its covered venues from television, print, radio, and the Internet to include newer and emerging media, such as child-directed ads on mobile phones and ads on videogames for children.

CFBAI considers “child-directed” ads those that are directed primarily to children under age 12. Children may also see ads on prime time dramas, reality shows, or Internet sites that are directed primarily to families, adults, or teens. Kolish noted that an analysis of ads appearing in a sample of Nickelodeon programming for children showed that food ads were only a modest percentage of all the ads aired (23 percent); ads for sedentary entertainment, such as movies and video games, were far more common.

While the percentage of children in a television audience works well as a means of identifying child-directed programming, it is insufficient for determining what is child-directed in the dynamic online world, Kolish said. CFBAI or individual companies may view websites as child-directed even if fewer than 35 percent or an unknown percentage of visitors are children. CFBAI conducts a multifaceted analysis of content, impression, intent, and other factors to determine whether a site is child-directed and provides lists of such sites in its reports.

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