Governments should play a more active role in curbing the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages high in saturated fat, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt to children, warns the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A WHO spokesman told FoodNavigator: “Governments should take the lead role in developing new or strengthening existing policies in this area.”
They should also ensure the protection of public interest and avoid conflicts of interest, he added.
Controlling cross-border marketing is a particular challenge. “For some countries, international collaboration will be needed to ensure a significant impact of actions taken at national level,” said the spokesman.
In May 2010, WHO member states endorsed recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. The recommendations called 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
In addition to government action, private sector stakeholders should be encouraged to follow marketing practices that are consistent with the policy aim and objectives set out in the marketing recommendation.
WHO also highlighted the importance of launching national monitoring systems to measure the effectiveness of advertising controls.
The governments of countries without information on the impact food and beverage advertising targeted at children should initiate research in this area.
“Noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes represent a leading threat to human health and socioeconomic development," said 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."
Worldwide 43m pre-school children are obese or overweight, according to WHO data. A significant portion of television advertising targeted at children promotes food products which are low in nutritional value, said the organisation.
Poor diet is one of the four common factors associated with the four main noncommunicable diseases; cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic lung diseases. Together they are responsible for about 60% of all deaths worldwide, or over 35m people annually.
A European Network to reduce marketing pressure on children was set up in 2008. Currently comprising 19 European member states, the network works to the advertising of energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods and beverages targeted at children.
Meanwhile, the first United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of NCDs will take place in New York on 19-20 September 2011.