UN General Assembly calls for curbs on HFSS food and beverage marketing to children


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The United Nations General Assembly held a High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs – lifestyle-related diseases) in New York on 19-20 September.

The Summit, attended by Health Ministers and some Heads of State and Government, focused on illnesses from heart disease to cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, marks only the second time the UN General Assembly has ever addressed a topic of public health, coming a decade after it pledged to fight HIV/AIDS. Since poor nutrition and unhealthy lifestyles are seen to be a major cause of non-communicable diseases, the food industry is engaging with health regulators, civil society and other stakeholders in view of demonstrating how it can be part of the solution in addressing these challenges.

A background paper on the meetings can be viewed here

The key output of the HLM is a Political Declaration adopted by the General Assembly. The Declaration, which lists tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity as the causes of the “most prominent non-communicable diseases”, highlights the economic and social burdens of chronic disease and the urgent need to step up prevention and control measures at global, regional and national levels.

With regard to food and non-alcoholic beverage marketing, the Declaration commits UN Member States to:

• “Promote the implementation of the WHO Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, including foods that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt, recognizing that research shows that food advertising to children is extensive, that a significant amount of the marketing is for foods with a high content of fat, sugar or salt and that television advertising influences children's food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns, while taking into account the existing legislation and national policies, as appropriate”;

• “Promote the development and initiate the implementation, as appropriate, of cost-effective interventions to reduce salt, sugar and saturated fats, and eliminate industrially produced trans-fats in foods, including through discouraging the production and marketing of foods that contribute to unhealthy diet, while taking into account existing legislation and policies”;

While underlining the primary responsibility of governments and calling for international agreements, legislative, regulatory and fiscal measures, the Declaration recognises the need for multi-stakeholder approaches. It calls on the private sector to:

• “Take measures to implement the WHO set of recommendations to reduce the impact of the marketing of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, while taking into account existing national legislation and policies”

• “Consider producing and promoting more food products consistent with a healthy diet, including by reformulating products to provide healthier options that are affordable and accessible and that follow relevant nutrition facts and labelling standards, including information on sugars, salt and fats and, where appropriate, trans-fat content”

• “Work towards reducing the use of salt in the food industry in order to lower sodium consumption”

National governments are invited to:
• Set up or strengthen multisectoral national policies by 2013, taking into account the 2008-2013 WHO Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of NCDs;

• Promote multisectoral and multi-stakeholder engagement in order to reverse, stop and decrease the rising trends of obesity in child, youth and adult populations respectively;

• Exchange best practices in the areas of health promotion, legislation, regulation and health systems strengthening;

• Engage non-health actors and key stakeholders, where appropriate, including the private sector and civil society, in collaborative partnerships to promote health and to reduce non-communicable disease risk factors, including through building community capacity in promoting healthy diets and lifestyles;

For more details about this issue or for information about the WFA vision for responsible food and beverage marketing communications, which has been presented to and commended by the World Health Organisation, please contact Will Gilroy w.gilroy@wfanet.org

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