Monitoring food and beverage marketing to children via television and the Internet – a new tool for Member States in the WHO European Region

The WHO Regional Office for Europe has launched a new tool to support Member States in assessing the extent and nature of food marketing to children. The tool aligns with the WHO recommendations on the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children by outlining a common approach to monitoring the situation in countries.

The Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases, the WHO European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 and the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity all recommend that Member States prioritize child and adolescent health via balanced and nutritious diets. In particular, they recommend policies to reduce the consumption of foods and non-alcoholic beverages high in saturated fat, salt and/or free sugars. One factor known to influence children’s dietary preferences and behaviours is food marketing, and WHO issued important policy guidance to Member States in the form of a set of recommendations in 2010.

The newly launched tool consists of a protocol  and accompanying coding forms; these are ready to use and allow Member States flexibility in tailoring research to the specific needs of each individual country. Research using the protocol will produce data on both the persuasive techniques employed (power) and the total amount of marketing to children (exposure). Guidance is provided on sampling, coding and data entry to guide studies on both television and Internet advertisements.

Suggestions and examples are provided to encourage comparability of the data, and to minimize discrepancies between countries. The protocol has been designed so that the resources required can be minimized and remain relatively low if data are collected manually, avoiding costs associated with purchasing from commercial sources. Expenses are mainly related to researcher time (a graduate-level researcher is usually appropriate) spent in capturing and coding data.

It is anticipated that this protocol will lead to a number of publications from countries reporting their findings. The protocol was presented to the WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) network meeting in Malta in February 2017, and will be shared again at the annual meeting of the WHO European Action Network on Reducing Marketing Pressures on Children in Dublin, Ireland, in May 2017.

WHO’s work in developing this protocol was financed through a voluntary contribution of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation.