Industry fails to adequately protect children from junk food advertising, Secretary of State investigates legal ban

To protect children from health damage, manufacturers in the Netherlands have agreed not to target unhealthy products at children under the age of 13. Yet 40 percent of children see advertisements for junk food. This is because of social media, where age limits seem false, but also because of the self-regulatory system around the rules for junk food advertising, new research shows.

Henri Faun from the analysis agency Panteia carried out the research on behalf of the food watchdog Foodwatch. What conclusions does Faun, who also monitors the marketing of children for the Ministry of Health, draw? “For years, we have seen through the monitor that the marketing of unhealthy food still reaches children despite the rules that exist. In the supermarket or at leisure facilities and increasingly via social media. The new research shows that the system of self-regulation of advertising is one reason for this.”

Only a few complaints per year

Faun refers to the Dutch food advertising code (RvV). In this, the manufacturers have agreed with each other how they will prevent children from seeing advertisements for junk food. But that system doesn’t protect children well? “What we saw is that consumer organizations are not allowed to propose amendments. Furthermore, when other parties, such as industry and advertising agencies, make proposals, their voice counts less.” Changes are therefore also adopted if consumer organizations vote against it, explains Faun. “While consumer organizations are calling for stricter rules, they are not forthcoming.”

For that reason, the Consumers’ Association even suspended its cooperation with the Reklamekodefonden last year. They no longer wanted to agree to this method and their input was found to have no impact.

Faun also sees points for attention when it comes to overseeing compliance with the rules that exist. “Control is only there when a complaint is made, and that only happens a few times a year, while we see on our screen that many more violations appear to be taking place.” In addition, the ad code is insufficiently geared to the development of social media. “It is a large gray area where it is difficult to control who sees which ads. There, children can be exposed to a lot of advertising for unhealthy food.”

Food advertising contributes to childhood obesity

The self-regulatory system around food advertising and its consequences is sensitive because in 2018 the government made agreements to reduce obesity among children. 16 percent of 4 to 17-year-olds are overweight. Teenagers have even doubled in 30 years. Food advertising contributes to obesity. Researcher Frans Folkvord from Tilburg University researched this: “There is a clear effect that if people see advertisements for junk food, they will also eat unhealthy food afterwards. And this effect is strongest for children.”

Consumer organizations have therefore been calling for stricter rules for years. In 2015, the Alliance Stop Child Marketing Unhealthy Food was even founded. Universities, municipalities, but also Unicef ​​​​and the Dutch Pediatric Association have joined. They only want to promote healthy food for children up to 18 years of age.

Nicole van Gemert, director of Foodwatch, which is also part of the alliance, finds the new research justification for a legal ban on marketing to children: “I read in this report that the butcher checks his own meat, so stricter rules don’t stand a chance . The current system does not guarantee health.”

FNLI wants to keep in touch

The Federation of the Dutch Food Industry (FNLI) is responsible for RvV. They indicate that they will make adjustments to the rules again next year. Director Cees-Jan Adema: “We want to raise the age to 16 years. We will engage in discussions with stakeholders about the criteria for which products this will apply to. We are also looking at the possibility of pre-assessment and we are looking at how we can make compliance with the social media code more structured.” According to FNLI, the starting point is to always be and remain in dialogue with all stakeholders.

The Advertising Code Foundation, which facilitates the advertising code, says it is surprised it was not consulted for the report. They see incorrect assumptions and have therefore consulted with the analysis agency. The Advertising Code Foundation considers it logical that the consumer’s voice carries less weight, as these are rules that the industry has imposed on itself.

Secretary of State investigates ban

State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen from Public Health writes in an answer that he thinks it is important that something changes. “I have already had discussions with FNLI, as the owner of the code, about tightening up the code in two areas: raising the age limit from 13 to 18, so that social media is also part of the code, and a tightening of the code. nutritional criteria. We are still discussing both points.”

In addition, Van Ooijen examines a number of legal options in the food environment: “A ban on marketing to children is part of this. I will inform the House of Representatives this fall of the results of this legal exploration. If the industry doesn’t move enough, legislation may be in order.”

Do you know more? Watch our broadcast:

Leave a Comment