The companies, including Campbell Soup Co., General Mills Inc. and PepsiCo Inc., announced the new rules ahead of a Federal Trade Commission hearing Wednesday that steps up pressure on the companies to help curb the growing child obesity problem through more responsible marketing.
While food marketing changes alone will not solve the obesity problem, they will help parents make healthier choices for their children, FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said in a statement.
She noted that the 11 companies account for about two-thirds of television food ads directed to kids.
The self-imposed rules include pledges by seven companies that will no longer use licensed characters, such as those made popular through movies or TV shows, to advertise online or in print media unless they're promoting their healthier products. Four other companies said they do not advertise at all to children under 12.
But there is some wiggle room, reports CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace. For instance, while General Mills is pulling chocolate Lucky Charms with 14 grams of sugar per serving off the airwaves, products like Coco Puffs, with just two fewer grams of sugar, will still be seen.
Margo Wootan, Nutrition Policy Director at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the companies are taking a big step forward by pledging to stop marketing their worst junk food to kids on television, radio, print and on the Internet.Only On The Web: The Council of Better Business Bureaus' Lee Peeler talks about limiting advertising to kids.
"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.
Since the FTC first publicly raised the issue in 2005, many of the companies have started selling products with better nutrition in mind. The companies hope their self-regulation efforts — organized through the Council of Better Business Bureaus — will fend off any new and more restrictive federal regulation.
Parents are happy to see new rules that restrict the use of cartoon characters such Shrek, Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.
"It catches their eye when you're shopping," said Josephine Thomas, a mother of three boys who lives in Manhattan. "As soon as they see a Shrek or Mickey Mouse, they automatically look at that and they don't see what they really need. That's one of the biggest problems when you go shopping."
That's one reason the food companies have said they will now only use licensed characters to advertise their "better for you" products. Companies can still use the characters in their packaging without violating their pledges.