CFBAI is a voluntary self-regulation pledge program created to improve the children’s food and beverage advertising landscape. Food and beverage companies and quick serve restaurant companies that participate in CFBAI have agreed to the CFBAI Core Principles to help address the challenge of childhood obesity. Under the Core Principles, participants commit that, in advertising primarily directed to children under age 13 in the United States (U.S.), they will either not advertise any foods or beverages to children in this age group or will advertise only foods or beverages that meet CFBAI’s Category Specific Uniform Nutrition Criteria.
CFBAI is administered by BBB National Programs, which also administers the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU). CARU’s Guidelines apply to all companies that advertise to children and address how all products, including foods, are advertised to children. CFBAI’s Core Principles apply only to CFBAI participants and determine what foods they can advertise to children in covered media.
In 2006, BBB National Program’s predecessor organization, the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and leading U.S. food and beverage advertisers created CFBAI to respond to recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that self-regulation do more to address concerns about food and beverage advertising to children in light of the national problem of childhood obesity. IOM had recommended that food and beverage companies shift their child-directed advertising emphasis to foods and beverages that are lower in calories, fats, salt, and added sugars, and higher in nutrient content. FTC had recommended that self-regulation could do more to address concerns about how foods are marketed to kids. CFBAI was created with the goal of improving the children’s food advertising landscape through nutrition standards for foods advertised in child-directed media.
Originally 10, now the 21 leading food and restaurant companies that participate in CFBAI have evolved the foods they advertise to children and how they advertise to do their part to help address childhood obesity in the U.S. The founding CFBAI participants were Campbell Soup Company; The Coca-Cola Company; General Mills, Inc.; The Hershey Company; Kellogg Company; Kraft Foods Inc.; Mars, Inc.; McDonald’s USA, LLC; PepsiCo, Inc.; and Unilever USA.
CFBAI is a dynamic program that has demonstrated continuous incremental improvement since its launch. Its Core Principles have regularly been updated to reflect changes in children’s media environments and evolving government dietary guidance.
Currently 21 of the leading U.S. food, beverage, and restaurant companies participate in CFBAI.
American Licorice Company
Burger King Corporation
Campbell Soup Company
The Coca-Cola Company
Conagra Brands, Inc.
Danone North America, PBC
Ferrero USA, Inc.
General Mills, Inc.
The Hershey Company
Hostess Brands, LLC
Keurig Dr Pepper, Inc.
The Kraft Heinz Company
Lindt & Sprüngli USA Inc.
McDonald’s USA, LLC
Mondelēz Global, LLC
Post Foods, LLC
Overall, these companies represent the vast majority of food advertising directed to children in terms of the number of ads and the ad spend. Participating companies vary in their product portfolios. While some participants may advertise products to children in accordance with CFBAI’s standards, others have committed to not advertise foods or beverages to children at all.
CFBAI participation is open to all food, beverage, and restaurant companies and not all companies that advertise foods generally or to children participate in the program. CFBAI actively seeks out and is always open to new participants. Responsible marketing practices, especially regarding children, are an important part of corporate social responsibility and CFBAI welcomes non-participants to join the program or use its strict Uniform Nutrition Criteria when advertising to children.
Under CFBAI’s Core Principles (or “standards”), participants commit to advertise only foods that meet CFBAI’s nutrition criteria or to not advertise foods to children at all. CFBAI’s media coverage includes child-directed TV, print, radio, digital media, product placements and product integrations, and mobile media. All participants also agree to not market any foods to children in elementary schools.
Additionally, all participants have a policy to not engage in advertising primarily directed to children under age six.
CFBAI has updated its Core Principles several times to address the evolving food advertising landscape. The most recent update was made in May 2022 (implementation January 2023) and revised the advertising coverage of the program from “advertising primarily directed to children under age 12” to “advertising primarily directed to children under age 13," aligning with the updated CARU Guidelines.
All participants must comply with CFBAI’s Core Principles. Each participant develops a company-specific pledge that details how it will meet the Core Principles. Participants that advertise foods to children must submit nutritional information regarding foods they may advertise to children to the CFBAI program administrator before advertising them. CFBAI’s website maintains a Product List that reflects these foods and that is regularly updated.
The program administrator monitors covered media for compliance and requires participants to submit detailed self-assessments annually. If the administrator identifies compliance issues with a participant’s advertising, the administrator contacts the company and requests relevant information, such as copies of advertising, media plans, audience demographic data or nutrition information. CFBAI also accepts complaints, although complaints regarding compliance with the Core Principles are rarely submitted. CFBAI publishes annual reports that discuss participants’ compliance and the program’s progress, including information on the foods advertised to children and their nutrition profiles.
A participant may be terminated for non-compliance with its pledge and, if appropriate, referred to regulatory authorities.
Advertisers have long recognized that children are a unique audience that warrant special protections. Children’s ability to understand advertising develops and matures over time, and studies suggest various ages at which they begin to understand the persuasive intent of advertising. It is generally agreed that by age 13 most children can think critically about advertising. Teens have significantly different interests and understanding and have greater cognitive abilities to think critically about advertising compared to children. CFBAI was created to address the unique vulnerabilities of this younger age group.
Regular incremental program improvements are a hallmark of CFBAI. CFBAI has revised and strengthened its Core Principles multiple times, including:
Covering “traditional” media (TV, print, radio, Internet, including company-owned and third-party media) (1st Edition – 2006);
Expanding the media scope to include new and emerging digital and mobile media in 2009 (2nd Edition, November 2009);
Harmonizing the audience definition threshold for child-directed advertising in measured media at a minimum 35% threshold (3rd Edition, September 2010);
Adding compliance monitoring of participants’ policies not to engage in advertising primarily directed to children under age 6 (3rd Edition, September 2010);
Adopting the CFBAI Category-Specific Uniform Nutrition Criteria, implemented December 31, 2013 (4thEdition, January 2014);
Strengthening the definition of child-directed advertising (moving to an audience definition standard of 30% children under 12 from 35% children under age 12); formally covering advertising on open-access platforms and channels with child-directed content, such as YouTube; adding the use of influencers in child-directed communications; (5th Edition, May 2020);
Modifying the influencer commitment to note the larger regulatory and self-regulatory framework requiring that influencer endorsements must disclose material connections between the endorser/influencer and the brand (5th Edition, September 2021).
Expanding the advertising coverage of the program from “advertising primarily directed to children under age 12” to “advertising primarily directed to children under age 13” (6th Edition, implementation January 2023).
CFBAI’s Core Principles focus on advertising on child-directed media, specifically advertising on TV, radio, print, and digital media, including company and third-party websites, mobile media and apps, child-directed content on open-access platforms such as YouTube, influencer communications, DVDs, product placements, product integrations, and word-of-mouth communications.
Packaging, in-store, and point-of-sale communications are forms of marketing that are primarily directed to the person making the food purchasing decision, which almost always is an adult gatekeeper. Therefore, these types of communications are not covered under CFBAI’s Core Principles.
For some media, there is reliable audience demographic data to measure the age of an audience. CFBAI refers to these as “measured media.” For measured media such as TV, advertising primarily directed to children means advertising in media in which 30% or more of the audience is under the age of 13. Some participants use an even stricter 25% threshold. This audience demographic standard covers most advertising on child-directed TV networks such as Cartoon Network, Disney, Disney XD, Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, TeenNick and others.
In digital media, when audience composition is known, CFBAI considers advertising to be primarily directed to children under age 13 if 30% or more of the site, app, or content visitors are children under age 13. Because audience measurement data for children is more readily available in the U.S. for children under age 12, CFBAI participants may apply a 27% audience threshold for children under 12 as an approximation (proxy) for a 30% audience threshold for children under 13. In the digital environment, however, reliable audience composition data may not be available to make this determination. In such cases, an ad will be deemed primarily directed to children under age 13 based on an evaluation of multiple factors. These factors include age demographics for the site or digital content, an assessment of the overall nature of the content (e.g., the subject matter of the site or video, the visual content, the language used, the kind of music or audio content, the age of influencer or influencers featured in the content), and actions taken to restrict children’s access to the site or content. Platforms or content developers also may provide content identifier tools that indicate whether content is child-directed. Advertisers also can use age-targeting tools, interest-based or behavioral factors, and “do not serve” lists to avoid serving an ad to children under age 13.
CFBAI participants’ child-directed food advertising should clearly and prominently feature qualifying foods that meet CFBAI’s nutrition criteria.
The Core Principles apply to advertising primarily directed to children under age 13 on platforms such as YouTube that may have content or channels that are primarily directed to children under age 13.
CFBAI refers to YouTube because it is the leading example of an open-access platform with content directed to children. CFBAI views media platforms that restrict children under age 13 differently. A platform’s use of valid age verification to restrict access creates a presumption that an advertiser on such platforms is not intending to primarily direct its advertising to children under age 13.
Content on participants’ corporate or brand social media sites should not be primarily directed to children under age 13.
Yes. If participants advertise a food or beverage through a child-directed influencer communication, that food or beverage must be a qualifying food or beverage (Section II.E of the Core Principles).
As noted in the Core Principles, influencer communications directed to children also must comply with CARU’s Self-Regulatory Guidelines for Children’s Advertising as well as FTC advertising disclosure requirements, including that ads should clearly and prominently disclose if influencers have been paid or otherwise compensated or incentivized to endorse a food or beverage.
As explained in CARU’s Guidelines, which apply to all products advertised to children, content generated by a user who has no material connection to a product, service, character, or brand mentioned or depicted in that content is not advertising. Accordingly, such content would not be covered by CFBAI’s Core Principles. However, if a participant uses or incorporates such content in advertising primarily directed to children, then the use or incorporation of such content is covered by CFBAI’s Core Principles.
CFBAI’s Category-Specific Uniform Nutrition Criteria apply to all child-directed food advertising by CFBAI participants. CFBAI participants may advertise only foods that meet these nutrition criteria in child-directed advertising.
CFBAI’s nutrition criteria set standards for most types of foods and cover 17 categories that recognize the different dietary roles of individual foods and their varied nutrient or ingredient compositions (e.g., Juices, Milks, Yogurts, Cereals, Snacks, and Meals). The criteria set limits on nutrients that public health authorities recommend that Americans limit (calories, saturated fat, added sugars, sodium) and set minimum requirements for food groups and nutrients that should be encouraged (e.g., food groups like dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, or important vitamins and minerals like Vitamin D and calcium).
CFBAI publishes a Product List twice a year that provides information on participants’ products that meet the nutrition criteria and that companies have indicated they may advertise to children.
CFBAI maintains a robust, collaborative, and science-based approach to driving improvements and innovation by setting nutrition standards for foods advertised to children. CFBAI reviews the Uniform Nutrition Criteria periodically to ensure it reflects current nutrition science and government guidance. The most recent version of CFBAI’s Uniform Nutrition Criteria, announced in 2018, was the result of an objective and comprehensive review that focused on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2016 overhaul of food labeling regulations. CFBAI’s revised nutrition criteria went into effect in January 2020. CFBAI’s White Paper explains the revisions and the basis for the revised criteria.
CFBAI adopted improvements that impacted every category. The revised criteria implemented an “added sugars” criteria rather than “total sugars” criteria to align with FDA’s new Nutrition Facts Panel; reduced sodium in 13 of 17 categories; strengthened the NCTE requirements in important ways, including updating the criteria for whole grain foods and requiring more food groups in categories that typically make significant contributions to children’s overall daily diet; and limited nutrient-based qualifiers to “under-consumed” nutrients rather than “essential” nutrients.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) determines what foods can be sold or provided as part of the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. USDA also allows foods that meet its “Smart Snacks” nutrition standards to be sold “in competition” with these programs. This means that schools sell and provide branded foods and beverages and children may see brand names and logos on products, or on the racks, devices, menus, or placards that identify or hold foods that are for sale.
CFBAI’s Core Principles do not allow advertising of branded foods or beverages in schools, even foods that meet CFBAI’s Uniform Nutrition Criteria or USDA’s Smart Snack standards. This restriction covers the use of posters, scoreboards, school buses, pencils, book covers, other school supplies offered for sale in school, textbooks, tray liners, cups, napkins, plates, coolers, food samples, taste tests and other places advertising may appear. (The commitment is not intended to interfere with the ability of schools to conduct food or beverage taste tests to assess what foods or beverages to offer for sale at school.)
The elementary school commitment applies to the entire elementary school and school grounds and facilities, including classrooms, cafeterias, libraries, hallways, auditoriums, gyms, playgrounds, and athletic fields. The restriction also covers school buses that transport children to and from elementary school and to official, school-sponsored events at an elementary school.
The commitment covers the regular and extended school day when children are under the control of the school or third parties on behalf of the school. This means that the commitment covers the period before and after the official school day as well as the time during transportation to and from school and official school-sponsored events. It does not apply to school events held after the extended school day.
Because CFBAI participants recognize that schools are special environments, they have voluntarily agreed not to advertise products to children in elementary schools. At the same time, school administration officials, school-sanctioned organizations, and parent organizations sometimes request that participants support school events or provide donations. CFBAI participants may support charitable fundraising activities in partnership with or at the request of schools. They also may make charitable donations and sponsor public service messages or events at the request of schools. As a matter of transparency and accountability, these events or messages may identify the sponsor. This means that children may see corporate names or logos in limited circumstances that are requested by the school or school groups. Messages regarding these donations or events should not include sales messages or depictions of the participant’s actual branded food or beverage products.
CFBAI also allows participants to communicate with adults such as school administrators and food service employees or parents. For this reason, items given to school or cafeteria employees and communications directed to parents or guardians are not covered.
Some CFBAI participants’ pledges extend this commitment to middle and high schools.
CFBAI’s Uniform Nutrition Criteria set strict nutrition limits for all foods advertised by the program’s participants. As a result, foods advertised to children by CFBAI participants have modest amounts of calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars and provide food groups and/or important nutrients and minerals. CFBAI’s strict nutrition standards apply to its participants’ child-directed advertising, which CFBAI’s 2021 Snapshot found accounted for about 70% of child-directed advertising.
Since the program began in 2007, foods frequently advertised to children by participants have been reformulated improve their nutrition profile, sometimes multiple times. They also have developed new foods to meet the Uniform Nutrition Criteria. Many cereals have seen increases in whole grains and all cereals provide important nutrients like Vitamin D and calcium. Yogurts have been reduced in sugar and provide calcium and Vitamin D, and products in the Meals category have been enhanced by the addition of a variety of healthier side options and beverages.
CFBAI’s 2021 Snapshot found that the top non-CFBAI participant product categories on children’s TV networks are candy or restaurant foods. These ads typically feature foods or meals that do not meet CFBAI’s nutrition criteria.
CFBAI publishes Annual Compliance and Progress Reports that describe participants’ compliance and program developments. These reports consistently have found excellent compliance by participants with their CFBAI pledges on TV and in digital media. These reports have noted occasions when non-qualifying foods were advertised in covered media to children. However, these lapses are infrequent and when called to a participant’s attention or self-detected, they are quickly remedied, including modification of procedures to prevent re-occurrence.