Ireland launches new codes of practice to tackle marketing of unhealthy foods to children

As part of its ongoing response to the challenge of childhood obesity and unhealthy diets, the Government of Ireland has issued a set of voluntary codes of practice aimed a limiting the promotion, marketing and sponsorship of foods high in fats, sugar and/or salt (HFSS foods). The new voluntary rules will apply to nonbroadcast media, including digital, out of home, print and cinema, as well as commercial sponsorship and retail product placement.

The aim of the codes of practice is to reduce the exposure of the Irish population to marketing of HFSS foods, as well as encourage healthy eating. In particular the codes of practice seek to ensure that children are not exposed to marketing, advertising or sponsorship associated with these products.

Over the last couple of decades, Ireland has witnessed increased rates of obesity. Recent national data reveal that 60% of adults and 1 in 4 children are either obese or overweight. Dietary intake data also indicate that Irish children frequently consume processed, ready-to-eat foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Although obesity is a complex issue with multiple factors that influence it, marketing has been shown to play a crucial role in our food choices, especially in influencing and encouraging consumption of HFSS foods among children. For this reason, the government has committed to reduce children’s exposure to marketing.

Such a position is supported by WHO, which has recommended that governments take action to reduce the harmful impact of food marketing on children through measures that reduce the overall amount of marketing for HFSS foods that children see and controls on the persuasive techniques used in marketing. Recent work by WHO/Europe has called in particular for tighter controls on digital marketing to children.

The government of Ireland has committed to monitor compliance, via the establishment of a designated body and a monitoring framework.