NutritionNew WHO report calls for action to protect children from digital food marketing

Today, the WHO Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe) published a report entitled: "Tackling food marketing to children in a digital world: trans-disciplinary perspectives" on the issue of digital marketing to children regarding foods that are high in fats, salt and sugars (HFSS foods). According to the WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative, in some European countries almost 50 per cent of eight-year-old boys are overweight and more than 25 per cent are obese. Given these and other alarming numbers, the report summarizes empirical as well as regulatory evidence on children’s exposure to HFSS food marketing in digital media and on the persuasive power of that exposure. These are the central insights:

  • In both traditional and digital media, food marketing has been found consistently to influence children’s food preferences and choices, shape their dietary habits and increase their risk for becoming obese.
  • Since no effective regulation or merely minimal control is in place, digital marketing offers a loophole for marketers.
  • With the help of sophisticated techniques, digital platforms can collect extensive personal data from online users in order to deliver behavioral advertising that targets audiences with precision.
  • For instance, digital marketing can be pursued via numerous platforms, such as advergames, social media and animated movies, or through powerful peer influencers such as video bloggers, known as "vloggers". Moreover, some food chains partner with gaming companies in order to make the chain’s restaurants important game locations.

As a core policy recommendation the report calls for immediate action by policy-makers to reduce children’s exposure to all forms of marketing for HFSS foods via digital media. Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, commented on this: "Our governments have given the prevention of childhood obesity the highest political priority. Nevertheless, we consistently find that children – our most vulnerable group – are exposed to countless numbers of hidden digital marketing techniques promoting foods high in fat, sugar and salt. Parents might be unaware of or underestimate the harmful impact of digital marketing, but this report makes clear the effect of such marketing on our children. It is the responsibility of policy-makers to recognize the new threat presented by digital marketing of food to children and to act swiftly."

Source: WHO Regional Office for Europe

More informationsummary and the report