After the recent blockbuster UK Parliamentary report on obesity, it could have been a marketing report too far, but the World Health Organisation’s Global Report is a mine of information for those seeking a planet-wide snapshot of the state of regulations affecting marketing of food to children. We report at
Who: The World Health Organisation
When: Spring 2004
In a little noticed development amongst the brouhaha of the Parliamentary Report on Obesity, the World Health Organisation quietly published a helpful report on regulations affecting the marketing of food to children around the world. The report is entitled "Marketing Food to Children: the Global Regulatory Environment." It can be accessed at
The background is that the World Health Organisation ("WHO") has drafted a global strategy on diet, physical activity and health for consideration by WHO member states.
The WHO has been examining a range of interventions that have the potential to play a role in tackling globally rising rates of non diet-related, non-communicable diseases. Ominously, the WHO goes on to say that the regulation of marketing of food, especially to children, has emerged as an area necessitating further attention. In an attempt to facilitate examination of this issue in more depth, the WHO commissioned the review of the global regulatory environment for food marketing to children which has now been published.
The report singles out television advertising, in-school marketing, sponsorship, product placement, Internet marketing and sales promotions as six marketing techniques widely used by companies to promote food to children.
The review took in 73 countries from all world regions.
Across these regions, 85% of the 73 countries surveyed had some form of regulations covering television advertising to children and almost half had specific restrictions on the timing and content.
Two countries and one province (Sweden, Greece and Quebec) have banned TV advertising to children but the effect of such bans on children's diets is difficult to evaluate because of cross border advertising and the use of other marketing techniques and channels.
So far as marketing in schools is concerned, whilst the practice is growing almost everywhere, many countries do not have specific regulations which operate, in that area. 33% of the countries surveyed were identified as having some form of regulation, however, but only a handful have any restrictions on the sales of selected food products in school although there were signs that attitudes were changing with national governments and the food industry taking a more proactive stance in developing regulations.
In non-traditional forms of marketing such as the Internet, sponsorship, product placement and sales promotion, regulation can be described as patchy with regard to children.
The report finds gaps and variations in the existing global regulatory environment. Regulations appeared to be aimed more at the content and form of promotions, rather than at minimising their ability to encourage consumption of certain foods. Furthermore, whilst new regulations are continually being proposed and developed, industry is making new efforts and consumer and public health groups are making new demands, but these efforts tend to focus on television and in school product marketing and less so on non-traditional forms of marketing.
In addition, mechanisms for implementation and enforcement of regulations vary considerably between countries but by and large, consensus is emerging that the issue of food marketing to children needs to be addressed by all stakeholders. Progress here could be achieved, the report indicates, by ensuring that health is at the centre of further policy development concerning the marketing of food to children.
Why this matters:
What with the recent UK Parliamentary Report on Obesity, the up and coming publication of the Government's White Paper on health which is trailered to include significant proposals dealing with the advertising of food, the release of this report and the clear intentions of the World Health Organisation show that the question of further controls over the marketing and advertising of food will not go away.
This global report contains little in the way of specific proposals going forward. However it does contain a wealth of fascinating and useful information about a very wide range of existing controls over advertising that apply in a spectacular variety of countries in all continents. For all those with an interest in this topic at an international level, an early read is recommended.