Washington, DC, 25 May 2010—Health leaders gathered at the World Health Assembly in Geneva last week urged new limits on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, as part of a larger call for action to reverse the growing global epidemic of noncommunicable diseases.
The call came via a resolution by the 63rd World Health Assembly (WHA), which met at World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters last week. (Click here for full coverage of the World Health Assembly.)
The health leaders expressed concern over rising rates of overweight and obesity—among the top risk factors for noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer—and their links to growing consumption of foods high in salt, fat and sugar.
In their resolution, the assembly noted that an estimated 42 million children under 5 are overweight or obese, and more than 80 percent of these children live in developing countries. The resolution called on governments, civil society and private partners to work together to reduce the impact on children of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans fats, sugar or salt.
Research shows that marketing of foods to children is pervasive globally and that most of this marketing promotes foods high in fats, sugar or salt. A number of countries have already introduced policies and legislation to restrain such marketing, and some private sector companies have taken steps on their own to reduce food marketing to children.
The World Health Assembly noted, however, that governments are best positioned to promote population-level health goals and urged WHO member governments to take either a comprehensive or a stepwise approach to limiting marketing of unhealthy foods to children. It said countries should ban outright marketing of such foods in nurseries, schools, school grounds, family and child clinics.
Among the specific recommendations made by the assembly were policies that clearly define different age groups, venues, time periods, and types of foods for which marketing to children should be restricted; policies that address international as well as domestic marketing; and provisions for monitoring and evaluation to assess the impact of policies on reducing consumption of unhealthy foods.