The World Medical Association has lent its weight in support of tough new policies to curb obesity, including taxes on junk food and sugary drinks as well as bans on advertising to children.
“A comprehensive program is needed to prevent and address obesity in all segments of the population, with a specific focus on children”, WMA said in a statement published at its annual meeting in Taiwan.
“The approach must include initiatives on price and availability of nutritious foods, access to education, advertising and marketing, information, labelling and other areas specific to regions and countries’.
WMA called on governments to consider taxes on unhealthy foods and sugary drinks, and use the additional revenue to find research aimed at preventing childhood obesity.
However, it is advertising that appears to be concerning world health leaders the most. Many advertisements are in conflict with nutritional recommendations of medical and scientific bodies. WMA noted, with junk food adverts often scheduled for times when there is a large concentration of child viewers.
The announcement comes in week when campaigners and industry came to blows over the EU pledge, a voluntary agreement made almost 10 years ago in which major manufacturers committed to change the way they advertise to children.
WMA highlighted the scientifically proven link between the extent of media consumption and adverse effects of body weight on children. Whether it’s traditional television marketing or through social networks, video games and websites, WMA said the adverts being used increase children’s emotional response to brands and exploit their trust.
“We know there is a link between the extent of advertising and childhood obesity, and so we are recommending that the advertising of non-nutritious products on television be restricted during programmes that appeal to children”, explained the WMA president.
The BEUC also claim that the results of the industry led EU pledge on marketing to children had been patchy. The nutritional criteria is not strict enough, said the consumer group, as it targeted more action from industry as part of a new campaign.
The EU Pledge secretariat hit back at the claims and states the average child under 12 now sees 88% fewer ads for products that do not meet the Pledge’s nutrition data compared to 2005.