The World Health Organization’s (WHO) nutrient profiling model is intended to help national authorities identify unhealthy foods by their saturated fat, trans fat, salt and sugar content and to restrict their advertising to children.
A spokesperson for the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said the proposal was heartening, pointing out that it blocks breakfast cereals with more than 16 g sugar per 100 g from being marketed to children.
"This is more than welcome especially when industry-defined criteria – which are the only existing rules in most EU countries – allow products with 30 g sugar to target kids,” she said.
“If the EU is serious about tackling childhood obesity, its member states should roll out the WHO’s nutrient profiles and the EU-based food and beverages companies (via the EU pledge) should align their criteria with those of the WHO."
Restrictions, allowances and bans
The model covers 17 food categories, ranging from no restrictions on advertising fresh and frozen fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs, to a complete bans on the marketing of confectionery, biscuits and cakes, 100% fruit juices, ice creams and sorbets.
In between, it sets limits per 100 g for each nutrient, beyond which it says foods should not be advertised to children.
‘Not the right approach’
A spokesperson for FoodDrinkEurope, the trade association representing the interests of the European food and drink industry, told FoodNavigator: “We do not think that the exclusion of certain food categories from marketing is the right approach and is likely to encourage reformulation. Our aim is to provide as much choice as possible so that consumers can decide for themselves what they wish to eat, and are well informed to do so.”
She said the group would not comment on the profiles as such “since they relate to advertising and not to the actual products”.
The association declined to comment on whether it considered the profiles to be too strict in some areas, or whether they might help inform industry’s voluntary measures on marketing to children.
The spokesperson added that many food companies had already reformulated products in response to consumers’ wishes, but emphasised that change must be progressive.
“We must also acknowledge the fact that some products are simply impossible to reformulate without altering their characteristics,” she said.
100% fruit juices
Pauline Hunter, a US-based registered dietitian nutritionist, said she was sorry to see the WHO bar the advertising of 100% fruit juices to children.
"I would suggest that any juices less than 100% and/or with added sugar and salt be a "no advertise" item. I think 100% fruit juices without added sugar and noncitrus fruit juices fortified with vitamin C can make important contributions to daily fruit intakes," she said. "...The problem with children's consumption of juices occurs when they consume large quantities of juice to the exclusion of milk and other healthful foods. From the viewpoint of this parent that is a parent problem, not an advertising problem."