WHO calls for governments to implement food marketing recommendations

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24/01/2011
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The World Health Organisation is urging countries to take action to reduce the exposure of food marketing to children by implementing a set of internationally-endorsed measures, the WHO recommendations on food marketing to children, adopted last May by the World Health Assembly (WHA). On Friday, WHO released a press release stating that "Television advertising is responsible for a large share of the marketing of unhealthy foods and, according to systematic reviews of evidence, advertisements influence children's food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns." They therefore call on governments to "reduce the exposure of children to marketing messages that promote foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt, and to reduce the use of powerful techniques to market these foods to children." More.

Dr Alan Alwan, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health said that "Implementing these recommendations should be part of broad efforts to prevent unhealthy diets - a key risk factor for several noncommunicable diseases."

These comments come ahead of the UN High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in September 2011 in New York when NCDs will be put on the agenda of heads of state. This is likely to significantly raise the issue of NCDs in government policy-making globally. It will also give WHO an opportunity to showcase the food marketing recommendations to senior political leaders whose responsibilities go far beyond the remit of health.

The press release has resulted in some press coverage here and here:

"WHO officials consulted leading companies in the sector -- Coca-Cola KO.N., Mexico's Grupo Bimbo (BIMBOA.MX), General Mills (GIS.N), Kellogg (K.N), Kraft (KFT.N), McDonald's (MCD.N), Mars, Nestle (NESN.VX), Pepsico (PEP.N), Unilever (UNc.AS) (ULVR.L) and the World Federation of Advertisers.

The companies agreed to draw up a code of conduct and committed not to market unhealthy products to children under the age of 12, he [Tim Armstrong] said. In some markets companies were living up to this pledge.

"There are other markets where perhaps companies are not adopting the same policies in terms of not advertising their products to children," he said. Armstrong declined to name the companies or markets concerned but said the WHO had a sense that companies were not fulfilling their commitment in poor countries in the way that they appeared to be in developed markets.

The different results underlined the importance of governments monitoring the implementation of any agreements reached with the industry. "The concept is that governments must lead this process," he said. It was up to governments to choose the best approach. Some might prefer to legislate a ban on advertising, others could agree independently monitored self-regulation with industry. But the WHO was aware that legislation and enforcement was beyond the capacity of some small, poor states, he said.

"Norway's director-general of health, Dr. Bjorn-Inge Larsen, said much advertising reached children through international television channels, so domestic legislation could be ineffective. Dr. Larsen said governments had a range of options and these recommendations were a first step. Pressure on the companies to curb advertising and ultimately production of the products would grow in the same way as efforts to limit the consumption of tobacco and alcohol had done, he said. (For WHO guidelines go to bit.ly/gkpdH4 ) [Reuters]
For more information, please contact Will Gilroy w.gilroy@wfanet.org


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