Eleven of the biggest food and beverage companies in the US have pledged to adopt fresh rules on advertising to children under the age of 12.

The self-regulatory initiative is an attempt by the industry to tackle child obesity in the US.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus has announced the move under its Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

The companies, included the likes of Campbell Soup Co., General Mills, Kellogg and Kraft Foods, have pledged to tighten their guidelines on marketing to children under the age of 12.

Among the undertakings, General Mills pledged that any product advertised to children under 12 must meet or exceed its nutrition guidelines for healthy products, which are based on FDA standards for healthy foods. In addition, General Mills will no longer advertise to children foods containing more than 12g of sugar per serving. All products will meet these requirements by the end of 2008, or they will no longer be advertised to children under 12, the company has said.

Meanwhile, Campbell has committed to having all of its advertising primarily directed to children under 12 comprised of better-for-you foods, such as lower-sodium soups and other products consistent with US Dietary Guideline recommendations.

“In 2005, FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt challenged the advertising industry to review and strengthen industry self-regulation of children’s food advertising in light of the growing concern about childhood obesity in our nation,” said Steven J. Cole, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Today’s commitments respond directly to that challenge.

“These companies have pledged to focus essentially all of their advertising primarily directed to children under 12 on products meeting better-for-you standards or refrain from advertising to that age group,” Cole said. “These expansive commitments significantly exceed the Initiative’s baseline requirements. In addition, all participants will take the unprecedented step of voluntarily opening their commitments to the BBB’s independent compliance monitoring and reporting.”

The announcement of the pledges received a cautious welcome from the pressure group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at CSPI, said the pledges were a big step forward. “I think this is a very good step forward. It’s not the end of the journey but it’s a good way down the road,” she said.