March 14th, 2008
Obesity Experts Back Junk Food Marketing Ban
Obesity experts are throwing their weight behind new international standards to control the marketing of ‘junk food’ to children.
The International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) is calling on food and soft drink manufacturers to adopt a global gold standard on marketing to help address the urgent need for measures to combat the growing epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity worldwide.
The draft code was developed by Consumers International in conjunction with the International Obesity TaskForce (IOTF), the policy and advocacy arm of IASO. The IASO represents 10,000 obesity specialists in 55 countries.
The proposed code would require a ban on all advertising of junk food and caloric soft drinks to children under 16 years old on television up to a 9 pm watershed and complete restrictions on internet promotions of junk food to children, where children’s online games are often used as selling techniques. The use of celebrities and cartoons, already forbidden in Ireland, would also be prohibited.
Professor Elaine Rush from AUT University is the New Zealand council member for the IASO and says the code should be adopted here.
“New Zealand, along with the rest of the world, faces the problem that the population has an increasing burden of disease related to the food and activity environment,” says Professor Rush.
“Protection of the current and future health of children is a universal priority. This international code provides clear rules for marketing, some of which are already happening in New Zealand.
“International support for a ban of commercial marketing of junk food and caloric soft drinks via the internet, text messaging and international social networks is a powerful tool that will support health ministries worldwide. More importantly it will provide support for parents and caregivers.”
Professor Rush says while the code alone will not solve the obesity problem, it will raise international awareness and leadership for ways of working together at global and local levels to provide supportive environments for promoting health.
The IOTF drew up a framework, known as the Sydney Principles, calling for tough marketing standards to be backed by national legislation. The Sydney Principles, led by Prof Boyd Swinburn in Melbourne, Australia, are based on an open consultation with fellow experts and contributions from the food industry and others.
The World Health Organisation was handed a mandate last year to draw up its own set of recommendations on marketing to children, and is expected to begin a consultation process with governments, industry and NGOs during the next 12 months.
Director of IOTF’s childhood obesity programmes, Dr Tim Lobstein, says the proposed code provides a firm basis for the recommendations that the WHO could place before health ministers.
“In a globalised world, broadcast advertising and marketing which uses the internet and other techniques knows no borders. That’s why it is vital that WHO provides strong leadership for an international code to set out the standards everyone should adhere to and to which individual countries can afford the force of law.”
Demands for action are growing around the world. In September health ministers in Europe agreed on a Food and Nutrition Action Plan, which included a demand for an international code, while health ministers in the Middle East region also adopted a tough resolution on calling for similar action.
A pan-Asian conference on Marketing of Food to Children in Bangkok, Thailand, called for new global standards to be adopted at the end of February, and in Ottawa on March 5, an independent jury convened by the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, called on the Canadian government to set a timetable to introduce compulsory measures.
In the UK, pressure is growing to reinforce the measures already adopted by Ofcom, the government regulator, which imposed restrictions on television advertising targeting under 16s, but fell short of adopting a 9pm watershed.
The Institute of Medicine in the USA, which produced an extensive report on Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity in 2006, is expected to seek a federal review of what action is needed after setting a two year deadline to see if voluntary restraints on advertising could have any real impact.