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WHO releases guidelines to protect children from harmful impact of food marketing

WHO

NEW DELHI, JULY 4: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a new guideline on policies to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing.
The guideline recommends countries to implement comprehensive mandatory policies to protect children of all ages from the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages that are high in saturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, free sugars and/or salt (HFSS).
WHO advised countries to develop nutrition profile models based on WHO guidance and recommended mandatory regulation of the marketing of HFSS foods and non-alcoholic beverages. It also suggested that HFSS foods should be defined.
Dr. Arun Gupta, senior Paediatrician, and Convener of Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi), a national think-tank on nutrition, said that children of all ages should be protected from the marketing of foods that are high in saturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, free sugars and/or salt.
“For India, the work is cut out clearly. While India is already working on the draft regulations, it can finalise quickly the definition of HFSS and use it for both warning labels, as well as restriction of marketing”, he told this paper.
He also said that the current regulations are almost absent on restriction of marketing of unhealthy ultra-processed food.
The WHO guidelines said that more than 10 years after Member States endorsed WHO’s recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children in 2010, children continue to be exposed to powerful marketing of HFSS foods and non-alcoholic beverages, consumption of which is associated with negative health effects.
“Food marketing has a harmful impact on children’s food choice and their dietary intake, affects their purchase requests to adults for marketed foods and influences the development of their norms about food consumption”, it said.
“Aggressive and pervasive marketing of foods and beverages high in fats, sugars and salt to children is responsible for unhealthy dietary choices”, said Dr Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety of WHO. “Calls to responsible marketing practices have not had a meaningful impact. Governments should establish strong and comprehensive regulations.”
The updated recommendation is based on the findings of reviews of recent evidence, including how exposure to and the power of food marketing affects children’s health, eating behaviours, and food-related attitudes and beliefs. In short, food marketing remains a threat to public health and continues to negatively affect children’s food choices, intended choices and dietary intake.
It also negatively influences the development of children’s norms about food consumption.
Policies to restrict food marketing suggests are shown to be most effective if they: are mandatory; protect children of all ages; use a Government-led nutrient profile model to classify foods to be restricted from marketing; and are sufficiently comprehensive to minimize the risk of migration of marketing to other age groups, other spaces within the same medium or to other media, including digital spaces.
‘Restricting the power of food marketing to persuade’ is also impactful, which involves limiting the use of cartoons or techniques that appeal to children, such as including toys with products, advertising with songs and celebrity endorsements.
It also suggested adopting policies comprehensive enough to minimize intra and inter-medium migration to avoid restrictions on marketing in regulated channels or settings.
Policy decisions based on this guideline should be adapted to the local contexts of WHO regions and Member States. Adoption of the recommendation and adaptation to country contexts require local consultations, with mechanisms in place to safeguard public health policy-making from undue influence by real, perceived, or potential conflicts of interest.
These guidelines aim to support Governments in creating healthy food environments to facilitate healthy dietary decisions, establish lifelong healthy eating habits, improve dietary quality and decrease the risk of non-communicable diseases worldwide.
(Courtesy: TNIE)

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