Reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods to children
21 January, 2011 | Geneva -- Children throughout the world are exposed to marketing of foods high in fat, sugar or salt, which increases the potential of younger generations developing noncommunicable diseases during their lives. The World Health Organization is urging countries to take action to reduce the exposure of such marketing to children by implementing a set of internationally-endorsed measures.
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.
In May 2010, WHO Member States endorsed a new set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. The recommendations call for national and international action 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.
"Noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes, today represent a leading threat to human health and socioeconomic development," says Dr Ala Alwan, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. "Implementing these recommendations should be part of broad efforts to prevent unhealthy diets - a key risk factor for several noncommunicable diseases."
Dr Alwan says implementing the recommendations by countries will strengthen their ability to foster and encourage healthy dietary choices for children and promote the maintenance of a healthy weight.
WHO data shows that 43 million pre-school children worldwide are obese or overweight. Scientific reviews have also shown that a significant portion of television advertising that children are exposed to promotes "noncore" food products which are low in nutritional value.
Poor diet is one of the four common factors associated with the four main noncommunicable diseases (cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic lung diseases), which are responsible for around 60% of all deaths worldwide, or over 35 million people annually. More than 9 million deaths are premature (people dying before reaching 60 years of age) and could have been prevented through low-cost measures at the world's disposal today, including measures to stop tobacco use, reduce the harmful use of alcohol, and to promote healthy diets and physical activity.
Preparations are ongoing for the first United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of NCDs, which will be held on 19-20 September 2011 in New York. Heads of state and government are being invited to the High-level Meeting, which will focus on the health, development and socioeconomic impacts of NCDs, particularly in the developing world.