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Around the World with Junk Food Marketing

August 3, 2010

Snack Food Advertising

Today’s source article, “Statement on Junk Food Marketing to Children,” was published in 2004. “That isn’t news,” one might say — and one would be mistaken. Every charge it makes about the childhood obesity epidemic still holds true, so what does that say about the rate of progress in the effort to curb junk food advertising?

Endorsed by a list — we were going to say, “a list as long as your arm,” but actually a printout would be two or three arms long — of health-oriented groups in 20 countries, plus several international organizations, this statement lays out the parameters:

Junk food is defined as foods or beverages that are relatively high in saturated or trans fat, added sugars or salt, and relatively low in vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber.

The statement accuses junk food purveyors of cultural and moral imperialism as they seek to displace healthful local diets, disrupt the traditional heritage surrounding indigenous eating habits and, worst of all, undermine and usurp the parental role in instilling values.

Junk food corporations are chastised for injecting themselves into the parent-child relationship, encouraging kids to misbehave in order to coerce parents into supplying them with food that is unhealthful and, in some cases, ruinously expensive. In America, we are used to looking at the fast-food meal as a cheap alternative to a “real” dining experience in a restaurant. It’s hard for us to grasp that, elsewhere, a fast-food meal can be a very costly alternative to whatever children would otherwise be eating, like a bowl of rice and vegetables.

What this 2004 statement aimed to achieve was a global ban on targeting kids under 12 with junk food marketing. In 2006, the World Health Organization discussed the development of an international code to protect children from the destructive effects of television commercials in particular.

So, how do things stand today? Peter Fowler, who writes about science and technology for many publications, recently reported via Newsroom America that while significant progress has been made, many challenges remain to be met.

The European Commission has been gathering evidence to justify policy changes in the area of junk food marketing. One problem is that while broadcast advertising, namely television, is more closely monitored, other media and channels of propaganda have been pretty much ignored. Now, the world also has to cope with text messaging, social media networking, billboards overlooking school playgrounds, and a plethora of other influences.

At the International Congress on Obesity, Fowler interviewed Tim Lobstein, Executive Director of Britain’s Food Commission. Fowler quotes him as saying,

There’s a certain amount of anarchy at the moment… [T]here’s chaos within the details, with a lot of contradiction in what industry is offering.

Basically, what the advertising industry offers is self-policing, and there is a strong feeling in many quarters that this is not enough, that national governments need to step in and exert firm control by making and enforcing actual laws. Korea and Malaysia have banned the marketing of junk food to children, and the United Kingdom has banned TV advertising for certain types of food during the part of the day considered to be children’s viewing hours. Various other countries like Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and South Africa are developing or drafting legislation.

In May, the World Health Organization passed a resolution that urges its member countries to “implement recommendations contained in a report on restricting food and drink marketing to children.” What the various governments need to do, both within their own jurisdictions and amongst each other, is figure out a clear and achievable set of targets, a way to enforce compliance, and a system of monitoring to measure progress.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Statement on Junk Food Marketing to Children,” Commercial Alert, 02/27/04
Source: “Progress Made In Stopping Junk Food Marketing To Children: Study,” Newsroom America, 07/13/10
Image by Jeremy Brugin, used under its Creative Commons license.


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