Governments 'failing to protect child rights by not restricting junk food marketing', says UN

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStock/Krylov1991
Image: iStock/Krylov1991

Related tags Obesity Junk food marketing

A new report from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) calls on governments in Europe and the rest of the world to protect child rights and adopt measures to restrict junk food marketing.

According to the WCRF, there is a wealth of evidence on the extent, nature and effects of the marketing to children of products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), which shows that advertising affects children’s eating and drinking behaviour, preferences, requests, nutrition knowledge and food intake.

The WCRF cited previous research​ that has shown that seeing 4.4 minutes of food advertising can lead to children eating 60 more calories a day and eating as little as 46 extra calories each day can lead to excess weight in children​.

“Marketing affects what children want, buy and eat, which in turn affects their health and contributes to the increasing levels of childhood obesity,”​ the report said.

It continued: “We must not ignore the amount of work that has gone into developing a robust evidence base. Review after review consistently shows that marketing has a harmful impact on children. We must not let governments or industry tell us that there is not enough strong evidence.”

Global childhood obesity rates meanwhile are on the rise with more than 350 million children and adolescents aged 0-19 overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organisation. Overweight or obese children are more likely to be overweight or obese adults putting them at an increased risk of a number of deadly conditions including at least 12 different cancers.

The WCRF claims that restricting the marketing of junk food to children reduces their exposure to these products and therefore reduces how much of them they eat. This can help reduce childhood obesity rates and it is why marketing restrictions are internationally recognised as urgently needed. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has cited the need for food marketing restrictions in a number of country reports, including Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, Brazil, Chile, Poland and the United Arab Emirates.

Kate Oldridge-Turner, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the WCRF, said: “Our report highlights the vital role that governments play in ensuring that junk food not be actively promoted to children. Governments who implement marketing restrictions are not banning any food from the market, they are simply restricting the food and beverage industry from advertising harmful products and targeting children who are vulnerable.”

Amandine Garde, Professor of Law and Director of the Law and Non-Communicable Disease Unit at the University of Liverpool, said she wanted to identify obesity and food marketing as ‘human rights’, which “increases the pressure on countries and governments to effectively regulate harmful commercial practices and ensure that children are not exposed to unhealthy food marketing. Regulating the food and the advert tech industries is all the more urgent as the voluntary pledges that these industries have taken have proven ineffective over the years.”

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