The EU should introduce mandatory restrictions on advertising junk food to children, instead of relying on today's (11 December) voluntary pledge, according to a European consumer watchdog.

The European Consumers Association (BEUC) told just-food that voluntary initiatives are not enough to tackle growing obesity on the continent.

"It's good that [the signatories] recognise that they have to tackle the issue but it's just a little step," a BEUC spokesperson said this afternoon.

"Obesity is such a big problem and children and parents are under pressure from advertising. We want mandatory measures; we don't believe in voluntary initiatives."

A slew of the world's largest food companies have pledged to stop advertising junk food to children under the age of 12 throughout the EU by the end of next year as the industry bids to help alleviate childhood obesity.

Food manufacturers including Kraft Foods, Danone and General Mills have agreed to curb their marketing activities following pressure from EU health and consumer protection commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

Under the so-called EU Pledge, the 11 companies, which also include Mars, Nestlé and Unilever, have agreed not to advertise food and drink on the TV, in print and on the Internet to children under the age of 12.

However, the BEUC spokesperson said the age limit on advertising restrictions should be raised to programmes aimed at 16-year-olds. "After all, the foods that are advertised are the ones that should not be eaten so often," she added.

Foods that "fulfil specific nutrition criteria" based on scientific evidence or national and international dietary guidelines will be exempt from the ban.

The companies, which account for around two-thirds of the expenditure on food and beverage marketing in the EU, have agreed not to promote products in primary schools, to publish their commitments online and commission independent monitoring of the advertising pledge.