In 2007, many of the largest European food companies committed to an ‘EU Pledge’ in which they promised to "change the way they advertise to children". As part of the pledge, they made promises to only advertise foodstuffs to children under 12 if the products fulfil specific nutritional criteria.
However, new data from a study carried out by the NGO Foodwatch suggests that manufacturers continue to market almost exclusively unhealthy foods – with 90% of products surveyed failing to meet nutritional standards that the companies signed up to.
"A law must be put in place that finally regulates marketing to children effectively," said Foodwatch boss Thilo Bode.
The German study examined 281 products produced by German manufacturers who signed the EU Pledge, including Mondelez, Kellogg's, Ferrero, Danone, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola.
It found that only 29 (10%) of these products should be marketed to children according to the WHO's criteria for a nutritionally balanced diet.
Among the companies tested, Nestlé scored relatively well, with 11 of the 42 (26%) of products tested meeting WHO criteria. Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Mars and PepsiCo performed less well, with zero products marketed towards children that can be classed as healthy according to the WHO criteria.
A joint statement by German Diabetes Association (DDG) and Deutsche Diabetes-Hilfe, a German organisation for people living with diabetes, claims the study shows that the food industry pledge has not been effective.
"The strategy of voluntary self-limitation, information and education has failed," commented Dietrich Garlichs, managing director of DDG.
Meanwhile, Foodwatch analyst Oliver Huizinga called out failure to adhere to the pledge out as “a sad PR manoeuvre to divert attention from their own responsibility.”
"With its sweet-sounding commitments, the food industry placed itself in the front line of the fight against obesity and malnutrition - whilst simultaneously marketing tons of sweets and junk food, specifically at children,” she said.