Reducing food-marketing pressure on children

WHO/Tina Kiaer

Food marketing to children is extensive, and focuses on products high in fat, sugar or salt. Evidence shows that television advertising influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns. Systematic reviews indicate that television is complemented by a wide array of marketing techniques including sponsorship; advertising in other media; product placement; sales promotion; the use of celebrities, brand mascots or characters popular with children; web sites; packaging; labelling, point-of-purchase displays; e-mail; and text messaging. Multiple messages in multiple channels cumulatively contribute to children’s enormous exposure to unsuitable foods. Thus, combating the effects requires a multisectoral policy response.

WHO recommendations, approved by countries in May 2010, aim to reduce the impact on children of the commercial promotion of foods and non-alcoholic drinks high in saturated fat, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or salt.

On average in the WHO European Region, 1 in every 4 children (24%) aged 6–9 is overweight or obese (range: 18–45%). These are the most recent findings of the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI). COSI aims routinely to measure trends in primary schoolchildren in 17 European countries.

European action network on reducing marketing pressure on children

With the support of WHO/Europe, several countries in the Region established an action network on reducing marketing pressure on children, in January 2008. The network now has 19 participating countries, whose long term goal is to protect children’s health by sharing experiences and best practices in order to identify and implement specific actions that will substantially reduce the extent and impact of all marketing to children of high salt, energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods and beverages.

Recommendations

WHO's 12 recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children call for, for example:

  1. the reduction of the impact on children of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or salt by reducing both children’s exposure to it and its power;
  2. the use of different approaches – stepwise or comprehensive, for example – to achieve this goal;
  3. governments to clearly define the key components of food-marketing policy to allow for a standard implementation process;
  4. the freeing of settings where children gather from all forms of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars or salt;
  5. governments to be the key stakeholders in developing policy, and lead multiple stakeholders in implementation, monitoring and evaluation;
  6. Member States to take account of resources, benefits and burdens when considering the most effective approach to take, and to cooperate to reduce the impact of cross-border marketing;
  7. any policy framework to specify enforcement mechanisms and establish implementation systems; to include systems, using clearly defined indicators, to monitor policy for compliance with its objectives and to evaluate its effectiveness in achieving its overall aim; and
  8. Member States to identify existing information and support research on the extent, nature and effects of food marketing to children.

What WHO is doing

WHO is reporting on the implementation of codes on the marketing foods and beverages to children in the WHO European Region. More generally, WHO supports Member States by:

  • providing technical support on request;
  • supporting European action networks to strengthen international cooperation;
  • cooperating with civil-society and public and private stakeholders in implementing the recommendations above;
  • strengthening cooperation with other intergovernmental organizations and bodies in promoting Member States’ implementation of food-marketing policies; and
  • monitoring policies on the marketing of foods to children.

What the private sector can do

Responsible industries can market foods and drinks in a way that:

  • adheres to marketing practices consistent with the policy aim and objective set out in the WHO recommendations;
  • implements the same marketing practices globally to ensure equity for children everywhere; and
  • reduces the impact of cross-border marketing by both respecting national initiatives and following the same practices in all countries.