The nutrient profile model is intended to help national authorities identify unhealthy foods by their saturated fat, trans fat, salt and added sugar content, and restrict their marketing to children. The WHO has been working with its 53 European member states to develop nutrient profiling for such foods since 2009, and only a handful currently use a nutrient profile model in connection with marketing restrictions – Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the UK.
“Given the current epidemic of childhood obesity across Europe, there is no justification for marketing products that have little nutritional value and contribute to unhealthy diets,” said Dr Gauden Galea, director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-course at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.
“The tool that we are offering to countries to adapt and use would protect children from the harmful effects of marketing of foods high in energy, saturated fats, trans fatty acids, free sugars and salt.”
The model covers 17 food categories, ranging from no restrictions on the marketing of fresh and frozen fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs, to complete bans on the marketing of confectionery, cakes and biscuits, energy drinks, 100% fruit juices, ice creams and sorbets.
In between, it sets strict upper limits per 100 g for each nutrient – and a maximum of 225 calories in the case of ready meals and convenience foods – beyond which it says products should not be marketed to children.
The WHO said there was strong evidence linking exposure to food marketing and unhealthy diets and obesity in children, saying the most-advertised foods were soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, biscuits, confectionery, snack foods, ready meals and fast food. It pointed to research suggesting that brand recognition starts early in childhood, with a detrimental effect on children’s diets and health.
It said the model could be used either to restrict the marketing of foods to children, or to examine the extent and nature of food marketing.
The nutrient profiling model was developed in response to a call for action from WHO European Member States in July 2013, when ministers of health adopted the Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020.
The model is available online here.