Letters to WHO may be used in EU talks on food marketing to children

By Joyeeta Basu

- Last updated on GMT

Only a handful of European countries currently use a nutrient profiling model to restrict advertising to children
Only a handful of European countries currently use a nutrient profiling model to restrict advertising to children

Related tags Nutrition European union

Letters of support to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its recent work on food marketing to children may be used as a basis of dialogue between European governments and the food industry, the WHO has said.

Organisations including the European Public Health Alliance, European Consumer Organisation BEUC and the NCD Alliance have written open letters of support to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its work on its nutrient profile model.

The letters make us very happy as they reflect lot of support. They seem to indicate that profiling was needed and that public health and the public are keen to support it,” ​said Dr Joao Breda, programme manager for nutrition, physical activity and obesity at the WHO’s regional office for Europe.

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.

BEUC said nutrient profiles were a positive step toward tackling obesity in children and hoped the EU would show a willingness to adopt them. “We don’t have the scientific background to judge the profiles but we understand that they have been assessed scientifically​. We endorse the move as it sets a good example and the European Union should adopt it​,​said Pauline Constant, communications officer at BEUC.

The WHO has been working with its 53 European member states to develop nutrient profiling for such foods since 2009. Only a handful currently use a nutrient profile model in connection with marketing restrictions, such as Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the UK.

Online media and children

Breda said that their recommendations were meant for all media, including online, which continues to be a grey area for many governments. “WHO has recommended a comprehensive approach to marketing food to children. Now that advertising is moving from TV to online, it is also a part of the picture. If member states want to have a comprehensive approach they need to address all components​.”

Constant agreed that though there have been efforts from the food industry to curb adverts in children’s programmes, TV was only a part of the problem. “Many children have tablets now and TV is not the only channel to look at​,” she said.

[But] the advertising sector was the first to recognise and acknowledge that advertising certain foods to children could be a problem and should be restricted​,” added Breda.

Industry speaks

FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) said many food and drink companies were already following regulatory frameworks set up by member states in line with the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive – a set of rules on advertising. Meanwhile, companies representing 80% of the market coverage in Europe had subscribed to the EU Pledge -- the industry-led initiative to support responsible food and drink advertising to children.

We will continue to encourage European companies to develop marketing communications which support parents in their efforts to promote healthy lifestyles to their children, and which are both responsible in terms of content and the products advertised,​” said FDE.

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