Food and drinks companies in the US have pledged to promote the importance of a healthy diet in their advertising to under-12s in the US.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) and the National Advertising Review Council (NARC) announced the changes in the self-regulation of advertising targeted at children under the age of 12.

The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative is a voluntary self-regulation programme involving ten of the largest food and beverage companies.

It is estimated that these companies account for more than two-thirds of children's food and beverage television advertising expenditures. The initiative is designed to shift the mix of advertising messaging to children to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles.

The drinks firms taking part in the programme are Cadbury Schweppes USA, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo.

Measures include a requirement for participating companies to devote at least half of their advertising directed to children to promote healthier dietary choices and to messages that encourage good nutrition or healthy lifestyles.

The soft drinks firms should also limit products shown in interactive games to healthier dietary choices, or incorporate healthy lifestyle messages into the games. They also agreed not advertise to advertise their products in elementary schools.

CBBB president and CEO Steven J. Cole said: "Self-regulation works best when backed by strong and effective accountability. We will closely monitor adherence to the participant commitments. This programme is an excellent example of how voluntary self-regulation and the Better Business Bureaus advance marketplace trust."

The CBBB has also announced the ratification of significant revisions to its self-regulatory guidelines for children's advertising. The revised guidelines strengthen the ability of the CBBB's Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), which monitors all advertising directed to children under 12, to provide guidance and oversight to all industry sectors.

Both the advertising initiative and the revisions to the guidelines stemmed from an in-depth review of the guidelines led by Joan Z. (Jodie) Bernstein, a former director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

"These are important developments," Bernstein said. "The initiative represents an innovative effort to promote healthier dietary choices and lifestyles to children. I commend these ten companies for coming together in a meaningful new programme that will have strong oversight."

Bernstein added that the revised guidelines would assist CARU in continuing to hold all advertising to children under 12 to high standards.