A new global tool for tracking junk food marketing looks to get governments moving on obesity. The tool, prepared by Consumers International, the global peak for national consumer organisations includes
- a manual for monitoring children’s exposure to unhealthy food and drink promotions launches worldwide
- interactive TV commercials and child-friendly websites targeted alongside traditional mediay
Consumers International has launched a unique step-by-step guide for governments and civil society organisations wishing to collect evidence on the marketing of unhealthy food to kids.
The Manual for monitoring food marketing to children seeks to expose the multi-billion dollar promotion of products that are high in fat, sugar or salt to children by the food and beverage industry. CI hopes that the evidence gathered from using the manual can help inform government health policy.
Recent examples of the kind of questionable marketing the manual will target include:
- A KFC TV ad in the US which featured the ‘MosquitoTone’, a high-pitched noise designed only to be heard by children. Children were invited to enter a contest to win KFC meal vouchers if they heard the noise during the ad.
- The website for KFC’s Chicky Club, the biggest children’s membership body in Malaysia, which pushes discounts on unhealthy products directly to children.
- Nestlé ‘fuel for school’ TV ad in the Philippines which alludes to increased academic performance from eating their high-in-sugar Koko Krunch cereal.
The manual, which has been sent to health policy officials, advocacy groups and consumer organisations across the world, is being launched ahead of the UN high-level summit on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in New York, 19-20 September.
The summit will highlight the current lack of concerted action to tackle the shocking levels of obesity worldwide, and the impact this has on rates of critical illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 170 million school-aged children overweight or obese*, while 43 million pre-school children already carry excess body fat**.
The manual, which is specifically developed for health authorities, consumer groups and other civil society organisations in both the developed and the developing world, is a crucial tool for exposing the scope and depth of junk food marketing. Such promotions are seen by many as a likely contributory factor to the global rises in childhood overweight and obesity.
The free-to-use publication, developed with financial assistance from the UK’s Nuffield Foundation, is a practical response to the recently developed WHO recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. Agreed by national health ministers in May 2010, the recommendations urge countries “to develop, implement and monitor policies designed to protect children from the impact of unhealthy food marketing”.***
By using the manual’s monitoring techniques, which have been designed and field-tested by CI over several years, researchers can support the development of evidence-based policies regarding junk food marketing to children.
The manual provides clear advice on how to set standard definitions of marketing to children, including the categorisation of ‘unhealthy’ food and beverages, as well as how to perform the analysis and how to interpret the collected data. It details the range of marketing techniques to help researchers identify subtle, as well as conspicuous promotions. And it separates the primary communication channels, providing guidance on particular areas such as television, print, internet, outdoor advertising and school marketing.
Helen McCallum, Acting Director General of Consumers International said:
“Companies invest millions in promoting their unhealthy products to children, using traditional advertising and a range of more subtle techniques online and in schools. This manual is a small, but significant, step in exposing the junk food industry’s efforts to influence our children’s dietary choices.
“As health ministers gather ahead of the UN summit in New York, we call on governments and civil society organisations to use this manual to help inform health policies that can have a real impact on the rising levels of obesity. We need to work together to create ambitious policies that will really tackle this major contributor to non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”
*Boyd A Swinburn et al, The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments, The Lancet, Volume 378, Issue 9793 (804 – 814),.August 2011. http://www.thelancet.com/
**World Health Organization: www.who.int/
***WHO recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children http://www.who.int/