Policies limiting junk food marketing to kids insufficient

By June Shannon Policy News   |   16th Oct 2018

Many policies aimed at tackling food marketing to children are markedly insufficient – World Health Organisation

A new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe has found that that many existing policies and regulations aimed at tackling food marketing to children are markedly insufficient, meaning children continue to be exposed to commercial messages promoting foods high in fats, salt and sugar.

According to the report, which reviews best available evidence on policy implementation in the WHO European Region, just over half or 54 per cent of the 53 countries in the Region have taken some steps to limit marketing of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods to children.

A few countries have adopted legally binding rules, which specifically restrict HFSS food marketing in certain media, at certain times. Others are attempting to address the challenge of digital marketing.

However, the report found that many countries still report no action, and there was an overwhelming preference for self-regulation by the food and advertising industries – an approach that is often found wanting by independent review.

There was an overwhelming preference for self-regulation by the food and advertising industries – an approach that is often found wanting by independent review.

Word Health Organisation Europe

In addition, the evidence suggests that the impact of existing policies on reducing children’s exposure to HFSS food marketing has been limited, something that is exacerbated by changing media usage and the increasingly integrated nature of marketing across a number of different media and platforms.

The report stated that there is increasing evidence that HFSS food marketing is associated with a number of behaviours and impacts including: more positive attitudes to unhealthy foods, increased taste preferences towards advertised products, increased preference for HFSS foods overall, greater pestering of parents to purchase HFSS foods, increased intake in the short term, greater consumption of unhealthy foods and lower consumption of healthy foods overall in the diet greater body weight.

In May 2010, the World Health Assembly unanimously adopted the set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. These recommendations urge countries to reduce the impact on children of the marketing of energy-dense, highly processed HFSS foods and beverages. However, the report finds that implementation of the set of recommendations continues to be patchy – despite unequivocal evidence that HFSS food marketing has a harmful impact on children’s eating behaviours and body weight, and repeated commitments made by countries to halt the rise of childhood obesity by 2025.

The report, prepared with collaborators from the University of Liverpool and the Open University, of the UK identifies existing loopholes in policies, ongoing challenges, and factors that countries need to consider to effectively limit the harmful impact that HFSS food marketing has on children’s health and rights.

“The Irish Heart Foundation is calling for a complete ban on advertising to children under the age of 16. Voluntary codes don’t work,"

Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy, Irish Heart Foundation

Commenting on the report, Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy at the Irish Heart Foundation said it was “extraordinary” how nations around the world continue to put the interests of multinational processed food companies ahead of their own children’s health by failing to protect them from an advertised diet that turns the food pyramid on its head and distorts our perception of what a normal diet should be.

“The causal link between junk food marketing to children and child obesity has been conclusively proved. That’s why television ads directed at children were restricted five years ago. However, loopholes in the regulation mean that children as young as three are still seeing more than 1,000 junk food ads a year on TV.

“Meanwhile, there has been an explosion in digital marketing that’s more personalised, effective and therefore potentially more damaging, but only subject to voluntary codes of conduct. As a result, junk brands have achieved a wholly inappropriate proximity to children – pestering them relentlessly in school, at home, even in their bedrooms through their smart phones. It’s called the ‘brand in the hand’ and gives marketers constant access to children.

“The Irish Heart Foundation is calling for a complete ban on advertising to children under the age of 16. Voluntary codes don’t work because companies adopting them aren’t obliged to abide by their commitments and aren’t properly penalised when they fail to do so. Meanwhile, firms that act responsibly are put at a competitive disadvantage which can only be remedied by the legal level playing field of regulation.”

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childhood obesity junk food Obesity online marketing

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