What needs to be fixed?
1 in 3 children in Europe is either overweight or obese. That is the alarming conclusion from the World Health Organization (WHO). Their research shows that this ‘epidemic’ is directly linked to the marketing of unhealthy food and drinks. American experts rightfully qualify this technique “pervasive, powerful, and pernicious”.
What food companies (don’t) do
Major EU food giants have acknowledged the issue. But they should swiftly turn their words into actions. In 2012, many voluntarily committed to market their products more responsibly via their own ‘EU Pledge’. As laudable as this initiative can be, the Pledge is bringing patchy developments for two main reasons:
- The nutrition criteria that define which food can be marketed to children are too lenient. By way of example, breakfast cereals made of a whopping third of sugar are allowed to be heavily marketed to children.
- Many companies fail to abide by their own rules. The least they should do is to uphold their promises. (e.g. Honey Loops cereals can contain 34g of sugar, above the Pledge's 30g limit).
What we want
The Pledge’s definition of advertising is too restrictive to effectively protect children from the harmful effects of marketing.
We urge the Pledge signatories to improve their rules on marketing, namely:
- Align EU Pledge criteria on WHO Europe’s nutrient profiles. They have been approved by the 28 European Member States.
- Stop using brand mascots to market to children
Example of difference between the EU Pledge and the WHO:
WHO nutrient profiles
Breakfast cereals can be advertised to children
With max 30g of sugar per 100g
With max 15g of sugar per 100g
|Yoghurts can be advertised to children||With max 13.5g of sugar per 100g||With max 10g of sugar per 100g|
Here is a glimpse into our gallery of food ads targeting children. Such ads run afoul of the companies’ Pledge commitments. The full-blown one is available here.
How have we selected the malpractices?
We have used at least 2 of the following 3 criteria to identify marketing practices that undeniably target children:
- Presence of a child who looks younger than 12 years old
- The ad features the product itself
- The products’ mascot or brand is visible. Although the Pledge does not cover this criterion, we deem it should.
We focused on online communications channels, namely third-party websites, video channels such as YouTube, and smartphone/tablet applications. On top of the quantity of channels used, we have also selected examples based on the numerous countries where they were present.
Various member organisations from our network have been raising awareness on marketing to children for years. Take a tour around Europe to discover their great work:
Belgium, Test-Achats/Test Aankoop: No junk food 4 kids!
Netherlands, Consumentenbond: Stop ongezonde kindermarketing
France, UFC-Que Choisir: Marketing télévisé pour les produits alimentaires à destination des enfants
Italy, Altroconsumo: Pubblicità che ingrassa
Slovenia, ZPS: Oglaševanje živil, namenjeno otrokom in najstnikom
Spain, OCU: Comida rápida: Marketing para niños
Switzerland, FRC : Marketing et malbouffe chez les enfants
Our members from Norway and FYROM are also actively working on the topic.
Discover our publications:
- In 2016, we put together an online kitchen showcasing 10 major nutrition issues consumers face in Europe. Click the pack of children's biscuits to explore the section about food marketing to children.
- We regularly write about nutrition issues on BEUC's blog "The Consumer Corner".
- Our news piece and letter about the World health Organization’s nutrient profiles, March 2015.
- For in-depth information, read our 2015 position paper Informed food choices for healthier consumers, from page 22.
On January 31, 2017, MEPs sitting in the ENVI Committee will give their opinion on the Audiovisual media services directive.
To protect children from unhealthy food advertising, it is key that MEPs support:
- regulation or co-regulation rather than self-regulation, as voluntary industry initiatives have proven inefficient.
- the nutrient profiling model developed by WHO Europe as the official guidance to decide which products are healthy enough to be advertsied to children.
- a ban on advertising of unhealthy foods during children's TV peak viewing times.
Food marketing to children does not stop at packages or online games.
'My friend Cayla' is an Internet-connected doll that raises data protection and security concerns. But that’s not all. We have discovered that this doll, which is on sale across Europe, also advertises foods high in sugar or fat to children.
As shown in the table below, none of Cayla’s favourite foods complies with the robust WHO Europe’s nutrient profiles that BEUC has been calling on the industry to adopt. Several do not even comply with the industry’s self-defined criteria.
* The nutritional information comes from www.tesco.com, last retrieved on 6/3/2017.