October 16, 2003

Legislative Activity

Date:October 16, 2003

To:AAF Members

From:Jeff Perlman, EVP-government affairs
Clark Rector, SVP-state government affairs

Re:WHO and Food Advertising to Children

In the coming months, food advertising to children is likely to become a major global issue. The World Health Organization soon will consider a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. The Global Strategy is expected to include recommendations to member countries for addressing the problem of obesity – particularly childhood obesity – around the world.

It would be a major shock if advertising is not addressed in the Global Strategy as many WHO officials have in the past expressed a belief – despite a lack of evidence – that there is a causal connection between advertising and childhood obesity. Critics have also cited the “tobacco model” when discussing ways to address the issue.

The attitude is demonstrated in the following quotes from a Joint WHO/FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases:

  • Part of the consistent, strong relationships between television viewing and obesity in children may relate to the food advertising to which they are exposed.
  • The evidence that the heavy marketing of these foods and beverages to young children causes obesity is not unequivocal. Nevertheless, the Consultation considered that there is sufficient indirect evidence to warrant this practice . . . becoming a potential target for intervention.

Proposed strategies in the Expert Consultation for obesity prevention include:

  • . . . limit television viewing . . .
  • . . . limiting the exposure of young children to heavy marketing practices of energy dense, micronutrient-poor foods . . .

Recommendations in an early draft of the Consultation included:

  • . . . regulation of food quality, advertising and labelling
  • . . . respond to the changing food supply by developing or adjusting food regulations that control food quality and safety, the labelling of foods and the advertising of food
  • . . .encourage national governments to adopt more stringent codes of advertising practice.

In November, the WHO staff will release a draft Global Strategy to the WHO Executive Board, which consists of the Health Ministers of member countries (Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson represents the United States, a full list of members is at the end of this alert). The Board will meet in January 2004 to discuss the Strategy and consider possible amendments and changes. This step is roughly analogous to a committee markup in Congress.

The Global Strategy is then expected to be put before the entire WHO at the World Health Assembly in May for final approval. While the Strategy does not have the force of law, its recommendations are expected to be implemented in many countries and will serve to frame the debate on the childhood obesity issue in many others.

AAF is working with a coalition of other food and advertising industry groups to communicate industry views on these issues. We will advance proposed solutions to help reduce the problem of obesity, yet protect the right of marketers to sell their products in a responsible way.

It is very important that key players in the advertising and food industries be prepared to contact government officials in Executive Board countries to present input on any proposals that impact advertising. We recommend that you begin to identify officers in your company that may have contacts in Executive Board counties.

We will, of course, let you know as soon as the draft Global Strategy is released and how it affects advertising. We will also provide you with talking points to use when contacting WHO and/or government officials. Please do not hesitate to call us at 800-999-2231 if you have any comments or questions.

WHO Executive Board Countries (grouped by priority):

  • Canada, China, Cuba, Egypt, France, United Kingdom, United States
  • Columbia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation
  • Chile, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Pakistan
  • Eritrea, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iceland, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sudan