N° 48 | September 2010

WHO set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children – strengthened efforts to prevent noncommunicable diseases

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) today represent a leading global threat to health and socioeconomic development. NCDs cause an estimated 35 million deaths each year, 80% of which occur in low- and middle-income countries1. As one of the key risk factors for NCDs, unhealthy diets contribute to increased NCD prevalence in populations by contributing to obesity, raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, and abnormal blood lipids. While deaths from NCDs primarily occur in adulthood, the risk factors associated with them begin in early childhood. It is estimated that in 2010 more than 42 million children under the age of five years are overweight or obese, of whom nearly 35 million are living in developing countries2. Promoting healthy diets is a key component of the World Health Organization's (WHO) NCD prevention efforts.

A significant step forward for global efforts to promote healthy diets was reached on 21 May 2010, during the Sixty-third World Health Assembly, when the 193 Member States of the WHO endorsed a set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children3. These recommendations were a result of a comprehensive development process Following the Sixtieth World Health Assembly, when the WHO Member States requested the WHO Director-General "[…] to Promote responsible marketing including the development of a set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children in order to reduce the impact of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt, in dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, including private-sector parties, while ensuring avoidance of potential conflict of interest” (resolution WHA60.23)4.

The first step in the process was the appointment by the Director-General of members of an ad-hoc expert group on marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. The ad-hoc expert group was asked to provide technical advice to WHO on appropriate policy objectives, policy options and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Prior to the meeting by the ad-hoc expert group in December 2008, two dialogue meetings were held with relevant stakeholders, one dialogue was conducted with representatives of civil society and nongovernmental organizations, and the other dialogue with representatives of the global food and non-alcoholic beverage industries and advertising industry. These dialogue meetings provided information to the Secretariat of relevant work being undertaken by relevant stakeholders. Reports of the dialogue meetings were presented by the Secretariat to the ad-hoc expert group meeting.

From February to May 2009, the Secretariat developed a working paper for consultation with Member States. The aim of the consultation was to provide the Secretariat with the views of Member States on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. Consultations were facilitated by the WHO regional offices between June and August 2009 and in total 66 Member States submitted a response. Additional input on the working paper was provided by the global food and non-alcoholic beverage industries and advertising industry and international nongovernmental organizations through a second round of dialogue meetings in August and September 2009.

Following the above described process, a draft set of recommendations on marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children was prepared by the Secretariat. The draft set of recommendations was presented to, and noted by, the 126th session of the Executive Board in January 2010 and passed on to the Sixty-third World Health Assembly in May 2010. With the adoption of resolution WHA63.14 on Marketing of food and nonalcoholic beverages to children5, proposed by the delegation of Norway and co-sponsored by around 30 other Member States, the set of recommendations was endorsed by the Sixty-third World Health Assembly.

The main purpose of the recommendations is to guide efforts by Member States in designing new and/or strengthening existing policies on food marketing communications to children in order to reduce the impact on children of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt. The 12 recommendations are structured under the following five subheadings: rationale, policy development, policy implementation, policy monitoring and evaluation, and research. The recommendations recognize that most of the available evidence to date comes from high-income countries and that many Member States do not have national data and research that enable them to identify the extent, nature and effects of food marketing to children. Further research is therefore recommended, especially related to implementation and evaluation of policies.

The recommendations encourage Member States to take action — at national level and/or through international collaboration — and they provide a framework to facilitate such action. WHO will provide technical support to Member States, upon request, in implementing the set of recommendations.

  1. Preventing chronic diseases: A vital investment. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2005.
  2. de Onis M, Borghi E, Blössner M. Global prevalence and trends of overweight and obesity among preschool children (in submission).
  3. Set of Recommendations on the Marketing of Foods and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2010 (forthcoming publication). (Available in the annex of Document A63/12 “Prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases: implementation of the global strategy, Report by the Secretariat”, at http://apps.who.int/gb/e/e_wha63.html)
  4. Resolution WHA60.23. Prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases: implementation of the global strategy. In: Sixtieth World Health Assembly, Geneva 14-23 May 2007. Volume 1. Resolutions and decisions, annexes. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2000 (WHA60/2007/REC/1)
  5. Resolution WHA63.14. Marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children. In: Sixty-third World Health Assembly, Geneva 17-21 May 2010. Volume 1. Resolutions and decisions, annexes. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2000 (WHA63/2010/REC/1) (Forthcoming) (Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/e/e_wha63.html).
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