Evaluating Industry Self-Regulation of Food Marketing to Children

In 2013, four out of five of foods advertised to children on TV were for products in the poorest nutritional category as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Issue

In 2009, more than a dozen major food and beverage companies launched the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), pledging to advertise only healthier products to children. This study examines TV food advertising to children before and after the launch of CFBAI to assess whether companies were following their pledges and how much impact it was having.

Key Findings

  • In 2013, 100 percent of the ads aired by CFBAI members met the companies' standards for marketing to children. Companies fully complied with the pledges they made.

  • In 2013, 75.3 percent of ads from CFBAI members featured products in the least healthy HHS nutrition category, an insignificant decline from 2007, when 76.4 percent of ads featured unhealthy products.

  • The majority of all foods ads, from CFBAI members and non-members combined, were for unhealthy products in 2007 (79.4% of ads) and in 2013 (80.5% of ads). 

  • Companies that were not CFBAI members were significantly more likely to air ads for unhealthy foods in 2013 than were CFBAI members.


Companies participating in self-regulation are following their pledges, but those pledges do not appear to be having a meaningful impact on shifting TV food and beverage advertising to a healthier mix of products. The CFBAI members' standards were not very high, and many companies still do not participate, limiting the impact of the program.


About the Grantee

Healthy Eating Research is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program supports research on environmental and policy strategies with strong potential to promote healthy eating among children to prevent obesity, especially among lower-income and racial and ethnic populations at highest risk for obesity. For more information, visit www.healthyeatingresearch.org.