But Dr Tim Lobstein, director of policy at the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) warned that it would not be easy to implement possible national and international standards tackling promotions of junk food to children, especially on the internet.
Industry will push back
Lobstein told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the European Commission’s regulatory approach is currently too soft, despite pledges from large companies to curb promotions and marketing targeting children.
“We need standards for marketing to children to be set by governments, not industry, and for health to be the priority, not market expansion," he said.
“It won’t be a pushover, the industry will push back,” Lobstein added, but he warned that unless changes were made companies would continue to “bypass any parental controls”.
Lobstein was speaking after the publication today of an IASO report that he wrote, co-funded by the EU,‘A Junk-Free Childhood: Responsible Standards for Marketing Foods and Beverages to children’.
Within it he said that the multi-billion pound children’s food industry was so fiercely competitive that it had led to an industry “civil war”, with companies fighting each other for market position and increasingly targeting children, despite previous promises that such activities would cease.
Lobstein wrote that self-regulation of junk food advertising was failing, with no consistency over the types of food promoted to children, when television adverts can be broadcast, how the internet is regulated and even how a 'child' is defined.
Junk food inducement
Companies reviewed by the IASO also disagreed on the appropriate use of 'equity brand' characters such as Quiky the Nesquik bunny (Nestlé) or Tony the Tiger (Kellogg's) and the use of toys with products.
“The consequences, are very low standards of control and continued exposure of children to powerful inducements to eat a junk food diet,” Lobstein said.
The report also noted that online games, and social media websites are increasingly being used to appeal to children, and reviewed the policies leading firms using these media.
Lobstein said: “The food industry is highly competitive and a company will always put its own interests first. The children’s food market is worth billions of Euros and the struggle for access is tantamount to civil war in the food industry. In this context self-regulation is ineffective and only serves to defer proper controls.”
The IASO hope to raise the issue at the forthcoming UN summit meeting on ‘Non-Communicable Diseases’ in September 2011.
According to a March 2011 Department of Health report, over 23% of Britain’s 4-5 year-olds are now overweight or obese, as well as over 33% of 10-11 year-olds.