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:


EU Pledge

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 childrenWith max 13.5g of sugar per 100gWith max 10g of sugar per 100g


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:


Further reading:

  • 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.

Cayla's secret food tips on Cheerios par BEUC_channel

My friend Cayla's secret food tips on M&M's par BEUC_channel

My friend Cayla's secret food tips on Pringles par BEUC_channel

My friend Cayla's secret food tips on Butterfinger par BEUC_channel


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.



Contact Card

The European Consumer Organisation
Europäischer Verbraucherverband
Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs

Rue d'Arlon, 80 Bte 1 
B - 1040 Bruxelles

Tel: +32 2 743 15 93

Head of Communicationspicture
Head of Communications
Pauline Constant
Senior Food Policy Officerpicture
Senior Food Policy Officer
Emma Calvert