WHO backs food and alcohol marketing restrictions


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On 27 May, during its sixty-sixth annual meeting in Geneva, the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) 2013-2020 following consultation with Member States and informal dialogues with NGOs and selected private sector entities, including the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA). The Action Plan includes encouragement for its 193 member states of the United Nations to develop policies which greater control the marketing and advertising of food and alcohol marketing.

The Action Plan reiterates the need to achieve nine voluntary global targets through 25 indicators, including the target to reduce by at least 10% the harmful use of alcohol and to promote a healthy diet though, among other policy options, reducing the impact of high fat, sugar and salt food and beverage marketing to children - by 2025.

Reducing the harmful use of alcohol

One of the nine voluntary targets of the Action Plan is to reduce by at least 10% the harmful use of alcohol by 2025, as appropriate, within the national context. To attain this goal, national policies should be based on clear public health goals, existing best practices, best-available knowledge and evidence of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness generated in different contexts. Health ministries are advised to bring together other ministries and stakeholders as appropriate to develop and implement effective public policy to prevent and reduce the harmful use of alcohol while protecting those policies from undue influence of commercial and other vested interests.

Policy options include regulating commercial and public availability of alcohol, restricting or banning alcohol advertising and promotions and/or using pricing policies such as excise tax increases on alcoholic beverages.

Reflecting the WHO's Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, the Action Plan includes the following recommended target areas for Member States' alcohol policies:
  • Marketing of alcoholic beverages
  • Availability of alcohol
  • Pricing policies
  • Drink-driving policies and countermeasures
  • Leadership, awareness and commitment
  • Health services' response
  • Community action
  • Reducing the negative consequences of drinking and alcohol intoxication
  • Reducing the public health impact of illicit alcohol and informally produced alcohol
  • Monitoring and surveillance

WHO Secretariat will publish and disseminate guidance (“toolkits”) on the implementation and evaluation of interventions at the country level for reducing the harmful use of alcohol. It will also publish risk-factor-specific reports such as on alcohol and health.

Promoting a healthy diet

Marketing to children, listed as one of the 25 indicators to monitor trends and to assess progress made in the implementation of national strategies and plans on NCDs, is one of the policy options for Member States to promote a healthy diet.

The Action Plan reiterates WHO's call on Member States to implement WHO's set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, including mechanisms for monitoring. Member States are also invited to undertake periodic data collection of determinants of risk exposure such as the food marketing.

Besides the recommendations on marketing to children, the Secretariat also recommends actions on labelling, reformulation and taxation to Member States:

- As appropriate to national context, consider economic tools that are justified by evidence, and may include taxes and subsidies, that create incentives for behaviours associated with improved health outcomes, improve the affordability and encourage consumption of healthier food products and discourage the consumption of less healthy options. Following the consultation with stakeholders, the language used regarding food taxation was toned down and the reference to “unhealthy foods" was eliminated.

- Develop guidelines, recommendations or policy measures that engage different relevant sectors, such as food producers and processors and other relevant commercial operators, as well as consumers, to:
  • reduce the level of salt/sodium added to food (prepared or processed);
  • replace trans-fatty acids with unsaturated fats;
  • reduce the content of free and added sugars in food and non-alcoholic beverages;
  • Limit excess calorie intake, reduce portion size and energy density of foods.

- Promote nutrition labeling, according but not limited to, international standards, in particular the Codex Alimentarius, for all pre-packaged foods including those for which nutrition or health claims are made.

The Action Plan further calls on international partners to work in partnership with the private sector, excluding the tobacco industry, when there is no conflict of interest. Member States are also advised to lead multisectoral action and multistakeholder partnerships for the prevention and control of NCDs.

In her closing speech, WHO Director-General Dr Magaret Chan said that the item on the agenda of the week-long meeting that took up most of the Member-States delegates time was the NCD Action Plan. She said she was pleased of the result and that some delegates viewed the global Action Plan as a potential watershed moment in the way WHO approaches these diseases. “The time spent getting the plan right was well invested”, she said.

Next steps: WHO is requested to develop draft terms of reference for a global coordination mechanism through a consultative process culminating in a formal meeting of Member States in November 2013. WHO was also tasked to provide technical support to Member States and to develop a limited set of action plan indicators to inform on the progress made with the implementation of the action plan in 2016, 2018 and 2021.

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