WHO Issues Guidelines to Protect Children from Harmful Impact of Food Marketing

On July 3, 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a set of guidelines on policies aimed at protecting children from the harmful impacts of food marketing. These guidelines are designed to assist countries in formulating policies that create a healthier environment by regulating the aggressive marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

The guidelines recommend that countries implement comprehensive mandatory policies to safeguard children of all ages from the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages high in saturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, and/or salt (HFSS). The WHO has introduced these new guidelines based on recent findings that highlight how exposure to food marketing affects children’s health, eating behaviours, and food-related attitudes and beliefs.

According to the WHO, the recommendations in the guidelines are grounded in a systematic review of evidence demonstrating that policies restricting food marketing are most effective when they are mandatory, provide protection for children of all ages, utilise a government-led nutrient profile model to determine which foods should be restricted from marketing, and are comprehensive enough to minimise the risk of marketing targeting other age groups, spaces within the same medium, or other media platforms, including digital spaces. The guidelines also acknowledge the significant impact of other approaches, such as limiting techniques that appeal to children, including cartoons, product-associated toys, songs in advertisements, and celebrity endorsements. Consequently, the WHO endorses these policies as a means to mitigate the detrimental effects of food marketing on children’s health.

Furthermore, the WHO emphasises that these guidelines will have a greater impact when implemented alongside other food environment policies, which the organization plans to introduce in the future.