International · Law · International norms

WHO Guideline: Policies to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing

Objectives:

To provide Member States with recommendations and implementation considerations on policies to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing

Scope:

Building on the 2010 WHO Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, this guideline was developed by the WHO “to strengthen and streamline support for Member States” in adopting policies (page ix). It was developed by the Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group (NUGAG) Subgroup on Policy Actions following the methods outlined in the official WHO handbook for guideline development. This process included a rigorous systematic review of the evidence, the involvement of a multidisciplinary group of experts, and following the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) to assess the strength of the evidence.

The conditional recommendation reads as follows:

WHO suggests implementation of policies to restrict marketing of foods high in saturated fatty acids,
trans-fatty acids, free sugars and/or salt to which children are exposed, and that such policies:

    • be mandatory;
    • protect children of all ages;
    • use a government-led nutrient profile model to classify foods to be restricted from marketing;
    • be sufficiently comprehensive to minimize the risk of migration of marketing to other media, to other spaces within the same medium or to other age groups; and
    • restrict the power of food marketing to persuade.

Relevant definitions to interpret this guideline:

  • Marketing is defined as “Any form of commercial communication, message or action that acts to advertise or otherwise promote a product or service, or its related brand, and is designed to increase, or has the effect of increasing, the recognition, appeal and/or consumption of products or services” (page 2).
  • Children are defined as “all human beings below the age of 18” (page 23).
  • Migration of marketing to other media refers to the risk that marketing moves “from restricted to unrestricted mediums or spaces”, and specifically mentions “digital marketing” (page 23).

The guideline clarifies that “policies should be formulated in the best interest of children” and adapted to the local context (page xiii). In this respect, reference is made to the policy guidance provided in the WHO/UNICEF publication Taking action to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing: a child rights-based approach (attached here as supporting material).