Malaysia and WHO tackle the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children
KUALA LUMPUR, 7 December 2015 - Recognizing the need to protect children from unhealthy diet, the Malaysian Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) regional offices for South-East Asia and the Western Pacific convened a bi-regional workshop to guide Member States in restricting the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children.
"Billions of dollars are spent globally on marketing, primarily for foods and non-alcoholic beverages high in sugar, fat and salt," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "Marketing campaigns are non-stop, widespread and clever, relying on the same techniques of advertising, promotion and sponsorship pioneered by the tobacco and alcohol industries."
Dr Shin added, "Children are key targets. Marketing plays a major role in shaping their diet, preferences and consumption patterns. Imbedded early on, these effects last a lifetime."
Unhealthy diet is a primary risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease. The risks presented by unhealthy diet start in childhood and build up throughout life. Childhood obesity has been recognized as one of the 21st century’s greatest public health challenges. In order to reduce future risk from NCDs, children should maintain a healthy weight and consume foods that are low in saturated fat, trans-fatty acids, free sugars and salt.
“Young children’s food choices are becoming increasingly influenced by a multitude of marketing strategies pushing unhealthy food products to become a regular part of unhealthy diet practices. And these choices affect their health in the long run. WHO South-East Asia Region has been an emerging frontier for the food industry, which is aggressively marketing to increase the sale of their unhealthy products. Therefore, timely action for prevention of exploitation of young children is essential,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Region, said.
Proposed actions by Member States and WHO
In 2010, the World Health Assembly, WHO's governing body, endorsed the WHO set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. The recommendations call upon Member States:
- to take a multisectoral approach that engages all relevant stakeholders, while avoiding conflicts of interest in policy development;
- to restrict both exposure to and power of marketing through comprehensive legal frameworks;
- to develop clear standards to ensure consistent implementation;
- to establish sustainable enforcement mechanisms and strengthen international cooperation to address cross-border marketing; and
- to build the evidence base by monitoring marketing practices, consumption patterns and health outcomes.
However, progress in implementing the recommendations through comprehensive national policies supported by enforceable legal frameworks has been slow across the Western Pacific and South-East Asia. Barriers such as limited legal and technical capacity have been particularly challenging.
The workshop addressed these barriers by:
- assessing each country's progress in implementing the recommendations; and
- developing technical and legal capacities for participants on restricting the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children.
The workshop also identified next steps for Member States to focus and to recommend support from WHO towards restricting the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children. As most countries in the Western Pacific and South-East Asian Region are in the initial stages of implementing the WHO Set of Recommendations, priority actions identified included conducting research on the exposure and power of marketing and advocacy through stakeholder engagement.
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