Correspondent's Choice

This story about the relationship between food ads and child obesity was published by EurActiv on 30th November 2010.

While the food industry has taken a series of initiatives to restrict advertising of unhealthy products to children, consumer groups are not convinced and call for the development of stricter criteria. EurActiv hears arguments from both sides of the debate in parallel interviews.

Regulation of marketing to children varies considerably across Europe and few countries have specific rules on food marketing.

The food industry claims to have “dramatically shifted” the balance of products advertised to children under the age of 12 since major brands signed an EU pledge in 2005.

Food manufacturers claim they are now increasingly directing their advertising spending towards “better for you” options.

Children’s exposure to products that do not qualify as “better for you” has been reduced by 60%, says Will Gilroy, director of communications at the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), which represents national advertising associations and the world’s biggest marketers, including several food and drink companies.

In some cases, they have taken even bolder steps by pulling out of children’s airtime altogether, he adds.

However, consumer groups are not convinced. Specific targeting of children “has not stopped yet,” said Ruth Veale of the health and safety department at European consumers’ organisation BEUC.

And while the industry’s EU pledge is certainly “a step into the right direction,” there are a lot of ‘buts’ and loopholes, Veale said.

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