“Public Health Nutrition” publishes global review of food marketing Pledges


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In the current edition of the “Public Health Nutrition” Journal, Corinna Hawkes from the Centre for Food Policy in the UK and Jennifer L. Harris from the Yale Rudd Center, review and analyse the various “food industry pledges” on marketing to children. They find that while the development of those initiatives in such a short span of time is “impressive”, limitations and inconsistencies in the various programmes suggest that “the food industry has a long way to go if its pledges are to comprehensively reduce the exposure and power of marketing to children”.

The authors have identified and reviewed thirteen different pledges launched between 2005 and 2009 (the study was submitted in August 2010), involving a total of 52 companies.

Main results of their review:

- Two of the pledges were global (incl. IFBA), two were regional (incl. the EU Pledge) and nine applied to specific countries
- Three were specific to the soft drinks industry and to the fast-food industry, with the rest being food industry wide
- Ten of the pledges required companies to publish individual commitments
- All pledges included definitions of children and child-targeted media, as well as the communication channels and marketing techniques covered
- All pledges allowed companies to set their criteria for the foods which were exempted from their voluntary restrictions.

In their analysis, the authors identify the differences in the various pledges and draw conclusions on these programmes' effectiveness and shortcomings. Key findings:

Industry coverage: a major limitation lies in the fact that these initiatives are voluntary: although participants to be among the largest in the markets, there are several other companies which produce and advertising some products to children who do not participate in those initiatives;

Geographical coverage: several companies have taken pledges in certain countries/regions, despite operating in many more markets;

Range of practices: the pledges cover only marketing that is targeted “directly” at children, thereby excluding marketing strategies directed at teenagers and/or adults but also viewed by children, and 'family-oriented' marketing strategies targeting parents and their children;

Definition of “marketing”: pledge initiatives do not apply to packaging;

Nutritional criteria: the absence of strong common nutritional criteria is another limitation.

Given these limitations, the authors find that pledges “certainly represent a stepwise rather than a comprehensive approach”, and that they appear to be “a response to external and possibly internal circumstances [suggesting] that they are not primarily driven by public health concerns”. They add that these pledges “give the impression that, in both letter and spirit, the intention of the companies involved is not to reduce food marketing to children as much as they possibly can, but just to limit some direct marketing of very high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar products to children”. They conclude by questioning whether “pledges are making a meaningful contribution to the gap left by governments, or whether [they] are in fact being used to deflect governments from taking the more comprehensive action that WHO acknowledges would have a far greater impact.”

Source: Advertising Education Forum

For more information on “Pledges” throughout the world click here. For further information please contact Will Gilroy.

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