At the 14th Consumer Protection Conference (VSMK) held in Saarbrücken, state representatives backed a resolution from acting chairman of the Ministry for Consumer Protection and Saarland minister Reinhold Jost calling for “action” to bar unhealthy foods targeting marketing at children and adolescents.
According to a report from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's public health body, 15.4% of children between three- and 17-years-old are overweight or obese.
‘A need for action’
Noting that this is a “lucrative target group” for the food industry, Jost said voluntary advertising codes were not proving effective in curbing the influence of food industry advertising. “There is a need for action here. Against the backdrop of the large number of overweight children in Germany, we have to do more to protect the next generation from inappropriate advertising.”
Jost’s counterparts across the state authorities in Germany agreed that current regulatory – and voluntary – initiatives are not enough to effectively protect children from junk food advertising. Jost stressed that children are “particularly receptive” to junk food advertising, pointing to research suggesting this contributes to malnutrition.
VSMK attendees urged the German federal authorities to look at what “legal measures” can be taken against the advertising of unhealthy foods directed at children.
"Where self-regulation does not work, legislators have an obligation to take effective measures to protect their child's health. One possibility is a legal ban on advertising for unhealthy foods targeted at children,” said Jost.
Influence on national policy
While Berlin is yet to respond to the call, Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection Katarina Barley noted the influence of state-level discussions. “The impulses from the federal states are valuable, because here are often developments that may affect the entire country a little later,” the Social Democrat observed.
The move has been welcomed by European consumer organisation foodwatch. The campaign organisation called on the Federal Minister of Food Affairs, Julia Klöckner, to introduce restrictions of unhealthy foods.
"The consumer protection ministers… are slowly recognizing, albeit still too hesitantly, that they have to make decisions against the interests of the industry,” Oliver Huizinga, head of research and campaigns at foodwatch said.
Foodwatch also wants the federal government to introduce nutritional traffic light labelling on a compulsory basis. Fiscal measures such as a levy on sweetened beverages and VAT exemption for fruit and vegetables should also be part of a “comprehensive policy” to promote healthy eating.
“A purely voluntary strategy to reduce sugar, fat and salt alone is just a drop in the bucket,” Huizinga said.