WHO urges tougher rules to curb childhood obesity

accreditation
iStock

The marketing of unhealthy foods to children has proven "disastrously effective", driving obesity by using cheap social media channels to promote fat-, salt- and sugar-laden foods, the World Health Organisation's Europe office said.

The United Nations health agency called for tighter controls on such marketing, saying tougher regulations were crucial to winning the fight against childhood obesity.

"Children are surrounded by adverts urging them to consume high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt foods, even when they are in places where they should be protected, such as schools and sports facilities," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the WHO's regional unit for Europe.

The promotion of foods high in saturated and trans-fats, sugars and salt has for years been recognised as a significant risk factor for obesity in children and for diet-related chronic diseases such as heart disease and some cancers later in life.

In a report on food marketing, WHO Europe said the food industry increasingly uses cheap new marketing channels such as social media and smart phone apps to target children.

Television remains the dominant form of advertising and a large majority of children and adolescents watch TV on average for more than two hours a day, it said.

"Overweight is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century: all countries are affected to varying extents, particularly in the lower socioeconomic groups," Jakab said in a foreword to the report.

And the picture is not improving, she added. Data from the WHO's Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative show that, on average, one child in every three aged 6 to 9 years is overweight or obese.

Marketing tactics

Jakab also said recent data suggest children become obese not just because they watch TV instead of being active but also because of exposure to advertising and other marketing tactics.

Leading categories of advertised foods are soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, biscuits, sweets, snacks, ready meals and fast food outlets, the WHO report said.

"Unfortunately, marketing unhealthy food to children has been proven to be disastrously effective," the report said. "Whereas adults are aware when they are being targeted, children are unable to distinguish, for example, between adverts and cartoons. This makes them particularly receptive and vulnerable to messages that lead to unhealthy choices."

WHO Europe said that, while all 53 member states of its European region have signed up to restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, most rely on general advertising regulations that do not specifically address the promotion of high-fat, -salt or -sugar products.

More comprehensive approaches -- via either legislation, self-regulation or co-regulation -- have only been adopted in Denmark, France, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, it said.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 720 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 8478 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 1013 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
17.77
-0.8%
Rand - Pound
20.13
+0.5%
Rand - Euro
17.57
+0.2%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.55
-0.7%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.4%
Gold
1,715.78
-0.6%
Silver
20.66
-1.9%
Palladium
2,260.50
-2.7%
Platinum
921.00
-1.3%
Brent-ruolie
91.80
+3.2%
Top 40
59,202
-1.1%
All Share
65,613
-1.1%
Resource 10
63,687
-1.4%
Industrial 25
79,239
-1.1%
Financial 15
13,961
-0.7%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE