WHO warns of effects of marketing strategies in shaping children’s diets

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Regional Office for the Western Pacific on Wednesday warned of the effects of "marketing strategies" in shaping children's diets, preferences and consumption patterns.

"Imbedded early on, these effects last a lifetime, so we must protect our children's health from these harmful influences," said Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.

Shin made the warning as he emphasized how obvious it is that children are constantly bombarded with clever marketing campaigns that use advertising, promotion and sponsorship techniques pioneered by the tobacco and alcohol industries.

He noted that across the Western Pacific Region, marketers of unhealthy food and beverages target children.

Usually, these food and beverages are high in calories, saturated and trans fats, salt and sugar, the consumption of which are driving exploding rates of obesity and other health problems in many countries across the region, Shin explained.

The WHO thus launched a new tool to protect children from unhealthy food and drinks, he said.

The new tool, dubbed the regional Nutrient Profile Model, aims to help governments and policy-makers easily identify food and non-alcoholic beverages that should not be marketed to children.

Nutrient profiles, which rank food by their nutritional composition, help policy-makers in member countries of WHO-Western Pacific impose restrictions on the marketing of food and beverages to children.

He added that evidence shows a link between exposure to marketing and unhealthy dietary behaviors. Unhealthy diets are a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in children, including obesity and tooth decay.

Shin pointed out that despite this evidence, children remain inadequately protected from harmful marketing practices, including television, print and billboard advertising, Internet, promotion and sponsorship of school and sports events.

Childhood obesity and diet-related NCDs, he said, are a complex public health problem among children and adolescents across the Western Pacific Region.

In several countries, overweight problems affect up to 15 percent of children under age five and almost 60 percent of adolescents in some Pacific island countries.

Shin further noted that dental caries also affect between 60 percent and 95 percent of children under five years in some countries. Growing overweight and obesity rates are also linked to a rise in non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Despite the region's growing NCD crisis, he said, governments struggle to implement policies to reduce the consumption of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages.

Restrictions on marketing are part of a comprehensive set of policy options to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods and address diet-related NCDs.

They are also part of the time-bound commitments that member states made to combat NCDs. Other policy options include front and back of packed food labeling and restrictions on unhealthy food and beverages sold in schools.

The Nutrient Profile Model was developed in collaboration with member states with guidance from WHO.

Source: Philippines News Agency