Ferrero has become the latest food company operating in the US to sign up to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, an industry self-regulatory programme on marketing to kids.

The Nutella maker is the 18th firm to join the CFBAI, set up in 2006 to set guidelines on advertising products to children.

Other signatories include Campbell Soup Co., Hershey, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever. The CFBAI said its goal has been to “shift the mix of ads directed to children to include healthier products – those with fewer calories, less sodium, sugar or fats, and more nutrient dense”.

Companies that have signed up to the initiative pledge to use “science-based nutrition standards” when creating ads primarly directed at kids under the age of 12 – or not to advertise to that group at all.

Ferrero has become the fourth of the 18 eighteen companies to decide not to use any “child-directed ads”, according to a presentation made on Wednesday (18 September) by the CFBAI vice president and director Elaine Kolish. Hershey, Mars Inc and Coca-Cola Co. are the three other companies that have opted to not to use ads targeted to kids in the US.

Kolish was speaking at a White House meeting on food marketing to children. She hailed the “groundbreaking steps and many incremental ones” made under the CFBAI. She said there had been made “ongoing, steady improvements in foods” and insisted “uniform nutrition criteria” to be adopted by the 18 companies would “lead to further improvements”.

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On 31 December, uniform guidelines on the nutritional content of products advertised to US children, announced in 2011, will become effective.

In July 2011, the CFBAI announced guidelines for ten categories, including dairy, soups and ready meals, which would replace company-specific criteria.

For example, a 6 fl oz portion of yoghurt has to be limited to 170 calories and 23 grams of total sugars. Soups will be limited to 200 calories, 480mg of salt and 6g of sugar, although tomato-based products will be allowed up to 12g of sugar.

At the time, US consumer group the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the announcement from the CFBAI was a “transparent attempt to undermine the stronger standards” put forward by the US government. The government proposals were ultimately blocked by Congress, which wanted more consultation on the plans.

In her presentation at the White House on Wednesday, Kolish wrote: “Self-regulation is significantly and steadily improving child-directed food advertising.”

In a speech, First Lady Michelle Obama, who is sought to lead government work to tackle obesity in the US, said there had been progress on the issue, with falls in childhood obesity rates in some states.

However, she added: “We clearly have much more work to do. I’m here today with one simple request and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids.”