Developed as a joint Nordic project between representatives and experts from Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway with participation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) regional office for Europe, the protocol is aimed specifically at foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).
The fact that it was jointly will allow for easy comparisons of monitoring data from the different countries, the authors say.
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It focuses on marketing communications of HFSS foods and beverages directed to children and young people as well as communications to which children and young people are indirectly exposed in their everyday life.
According to WHO, marketing is “any form of commercial communication or message that is designed to, or has the effect of, increasing the recognition, appeal and/or consumption of particular products and services. It comprises anything that acts to advertise or otherwise promote a product or service.”
Technical officer at the WHO Jo Jewel tweeted: “This fantastic tool will help advocate policies and close loopholes. [I am] happy that WHO Europe could contribute throughout its development.”
The protocol notes that the rapid development of marketing in various social media platforms. “Monitoring of marketing of HFSS towards children and young people in social media should therefore remain under continuous review as new methods for monitoring are developed or become publicly available.”
While platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat set an age limit of 13 years, many users are in fact younger than this.
“In such cases, the marketers are not responsible for children’s exposure to their marketing, but from a public health perspective it is still necessary to monitor the marketing that children are potentially exposed to.”
The authors therefore recommend that monitoring should focus on actual media use rather than relying on defined age limits.
Given that marketing methods are continually evolving, particularly with the increasing importance of social media and online platforms, the authors stress the need of critically reviewing and possibly adjusting the protocol where necessary.
In addition to a company’s direct on-pack marketing material and associated adverts, the report identifies cinemas, shops and schools areas that should be monitored as well as online platforms such as social networks, advergames, TV streaming websites and video blogs.
The project was funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.