Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Overview: The World Health Organization (WHO) has released guidelines recommending that governments implement policies to monitor or restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.
Food policy category: Nutrition
Program goals: To protect children of all ages from the harmful effects of food marketing in order to improve eating behaviors and health.
How it works: WHO recommends policies that include:
- Mandatory regulations for the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages that are high in saturated fatty acids, trans-fatty acids, added sugar, and/or salt (HFSS)
- Protection of all children under the age of 18
- Use of a government-led nutrient profile model, in line with national dietary recommendations, to determine which foods will be restricted from marketing to children.
- Minimal risk of companies’ shifting restricted advertisements to other media channels – for instance, if policies specify restricting only television advertisements, companies may increase their marketing presence on the Internet or in print media.
When establishing food-marketing policies, WHO recommends that governments take into consideration the following:
- Local context, including available resources, the legal system, the political economy, enforcement mechanisms, and stakeholders
- Children’s exposure to marketing by bordering countries or states
- Potential opposition from industry leaders – WHO and UNICEF’s Taking Action to Protect Children from the Harmful Impact of Food Marketing provides guidance on anticipating opposition and how to respond
- The overall food environment, including school food and nutrition policies, nutrition labeling policies, and fiscal policies.
Progress to date: WHO set an initial set of recommendations in 2010. The updated recommendations are based on finding that food marketing to children continues to negatively affect their food choices and health.
Why it is important: Thirteen years have passed since WHO first released recommendations for food marketing to children, but children are still being exposed to aggressive marketing of HFSS foods and beverages, which influences their food preferences and consumption. WHO published a review in 2022 indicating that food and beverage marketing to children is primarily focused on foods with minimal nutritional value, such as fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages, salty snacks, breakfast cereals, and candy. A review published in JAMA Pediatrics concluded that food marketing is associated with increasing children’s food choices, preferences, purchase requests, and intake.
Placing mandatory restrictions on food and beverage advertisements to which children are exposed on a daily basis – at school, online, during children’s television programming, and in children’s magazines – should decrease their preference for and intake of these items and improve their overall health.
Program/Policy initiated: The guidelines became available on July 3, 2023.
Point of contact:
WHO Media Team
Similar practices: In January 2006, the US-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released its own Guidelines for Responsible Food Marketing to Children, and in 2010 WHO released its original Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. Several countries, including Chile, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom, already have policies in place that restrict food- marketing to children.
Evaluation: Evaluation has not yet been completed.
- Eight Countries Taking Action Against Harmful Food Marketing (Foodtank)
- Food Marketing Influences Children’s Attitudes, Preferences and Consumption: A Systematic Critical Review (Nutrients)
- Governmental Policies to Reduce Unhealthy Food Marketing to Children (Nutrition Reviews)
- Limits on Marketing to Kids (Healthy Food America)
- New Guidance to Protect Children from ‘Aggressive’ Food Marketing (United Nations)
- Towards Effective Restriction of Unhealthy Food Marketing to Children: Unlocking the Potential of Artificial Intelligence (International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity)
- WHO Is Pushing For Stricter Food Marketing Guidelines For Children (The Daily Meal)
- WHO Launches New Guideline for Protecting Children from Unhealthy Food Marketing (Health Policy Watch)
- WHO Recommends Mandatory Regulation of Junk Food Marketing to Protect Children From HFSS Products (Food Ingredients First)
- Association of Food and Nonalcoholic Beverage Marketing With Children and Adolescents’ Eating Behaviors and Health (JAMA Pediatrics)
- BAI Children’s Commercial Communications Code (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland)
- Curbing Childhood Obesity: Taiwan’s Ban on the Marketing of Junk Food to Children (McGill Journal of Global Health)
- Food Marketing Exposure and Power and Their Associations With Food-Related Attitudes, Beliefs and Behaviours: A Narrative Review (World Health Organization)
- Guidelines for Responsible Food Marketing to Children (Center for Science in the Public Interest)
- The Influence of Chile’s Food Labeling and Advertising Law and Other Factors on Dietary and Physical Activity Behavior of Elementary Students in a Peripheral Region: A Qualitative Study (BMC Nutrition)
- Mexico Ministry of Health Issues Changes to Food Advertising Laws and Front-Of-Pack Labeling (JD Supra)
- New Advertising Rules to Help Tackle Childhood Obesity (GOV.UK)
- The Norwegian Industry-Led Scheme Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Food and Beverages to Children (European Journal of Public Health)
- Nutrient Profile Model (Pan American Health Organization)
- Policies to Protect Children From the Harmful Impact of Food Marketing: WHO Guideline (World Health Organization)
- Set of Recommendations on the Marketing of Foods and Non-alcoholic Beverages to Children (World Health Organization)
- Taking Action to Protect Children from the Harmful Impact of Food Marketing (UNICEF)
- WHO Recommends Stronger Policies to Protect Children From the Harmful Impact of Food Marketing (World Health Organization)