In December 2007 a clutch of branded food companies agreed to reign in their advertising practices for foods that do not meet nutritional standards, as part of the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.
Childhood obesity is a major problem in Europe, and the food industry has been repeatedly criticised for using child-oriented advertising campaigns for foods of little nutritional value. Up until the age of 12, children may not have the ability to critically assess advertising.
Signatories to the pledge include number of snack food companies, including Mars, Kellogg’s, Nestle, PepsiCo and Kraft.
The pledge came into force at the start of this year, and Accenture Media Services was commissioned to investigate how well they have complied in 2009. The report, issued today, indicated that 93 per cent decline in advertising for products that do not meet companies’ nutritional standards around programming with an audience mostly made up of children.
Overall, advertising of foods that did not meet the standards was down 56 per cent.
Lucien Bouis, a member of the European Economic and Social Committee, said the pledge commitments had been carried out “faithfully, realistically, and with diligence”. He said the findings should be of interest to all stakeholders involved in health and consumer protection.
The findings were also welcomed by the managing director of the World Federation of Advertisers Stephan Loerke, who said: “Industry has long held that voluntary action can be more effective in a shorter time frame than government regulation. These independent data show how self-regulation can help deliver on public policy objectives and why it cannot be discounted from the policy mix.”
Monitoring took place in France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Poland between January and May 2009; the researchers looked at advertising on TV, in print and on the internet, for which more than 50 per cent of the audience/readership was under 12.
The pledge signatories agreed that there would be “no advertising of products to children under 12 years, except for products which fulfil specific nutrition criteria based on accepted scientific evidence and/or applicable national or international dietary guidelines”.
However because there is no one homogenous food culture, there is no single global or European set of nutritional guidelines. This meant that companies developed their own nutritional guidelines, which were based on global guidelines that are available – such as the World Health Organization, the US Institute of Medicine, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Some companies included all products in their portfolio; others focused only on specific categories, such as confectionery or soft drinks.
This was seen to be a problem by consumer watchdog Which? Chief policy advisor Sue Davies told FoodNavigator.com that it is good that companies are recognising the need to be more responsible, but the EU pledge is not strong enough.
“There are limitations to how companies define which of their products are less healthy, the types of promotions that are included and the age of children covered,” she said. “More action is needed to ensure a real change across the board.”
The pledge also included halting communication of products that did not meet the nutritional standards in primary schools, unless requested by or agreed with the school administration for educational purposes.
Separate monitoring by Price Waterhouse Coopers found pledge companies were 93 per cent compliant.
The full report on compliance is available at http://www.eu-pledge.eu