Food manufacturers including Nestle , Hershey and Kraft Foods have published their own uniform guidelines on the nutritional content of products advertised to US children.

The criteria, published yesterday (14 July), are an attempt to regain the initiative over the issue from the US government, which has put forward plans for criteria for the food industry to follow.

The US government, which is facing rising levels of obesity, published its set of “voluntary principles” in April and invited public comment on its plans, including from the food industry. The deadline for comment ended yesterday.

US food makers, through The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), yesterday announced guidelines for ten categories, including dairy, soups and ready meals.

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.

The CFBAI, which also includes companies like Campbell Soup Co., the US arm of Danone and Kellogg , said the agreement between its members on the new nutrition guidelines was “groundbreaking”. The deal, it said, would “change the landscape of what is advertised to kids by the nation’s largest food and beverage companies”.

Elaine Kolish, vice president and director of the CFBAI, said the criteria were “another huge step forward, further strengthening voluntary efforts to improve child-directed advertising”.

She added: “Now foods from different companies, such as cereals or canned pastas, will meet the same nutrition criteria, rather than similar but slightly different company-specific criteria. The new criteria are comprehensive, establishing limits for calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and total sugars as well as requirements for nutrition components to encourage.”

The CFBAI, a programme of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said the guidelines would require “many companies” to alter product recipes or they will not able to advertise them after the end of 2013.

However, 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.

“If the industry adopts its own proposed standards, young children would continue to be bombarded with ads for such junk foods as Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisps, Reese’s Puffs, and Corn Pops cereals, Kool-Aid, many Lunchables, and sugary Popsicles,” the CSPI said.

Margo Wootan, the CSPI’s nutrition policy director, welcomed the development of uniform standards but said the industry should follow the Government’s proposals.

“It’s great news that, at long last, the industry realises that the current patchwork of inconsistent company pledges is not working and that industry-wide nutrition guidelines are needed,” Wootan said. “We, along with many national health and medical organisations, call on the food and media industries to voluntarily adopt the sensible nutrition standards developed by the government agencies.”