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Junk food marketing is ‘prevalent everywhere’ and promotes ‘unhealthy diets’ to children: WHO

The paper, published today (7 February), was produced as part of the WHO guideline development process, which provides recommendations for public health policy. It found that the majority of food marketing is focused on unhealthy products – with the proportion of junk food marketing found to be ‘generally greater than 50%’ and in some studies ‘over 90%’.

“The most frequently marketed food categories included fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages, chocolate and confectionery, salty/savoury snacks, sweet bakery items and snacks, breakfast cereals, dairy products and desserts,”​ the research, ‘Food marketing exposure and power and their associations with food-related attitudes, beliefs and behaviours’, revealed.

Moreover, WHO concluded, children are exposed to much of this messaging. “There was good evidence to suggest that food marketing promoting less healthy foods was prevalent in settings where children gather (e.g. schools, sports clubs) and, in the context of food marketing though the medium of TV, more frequent during children’s typical viewing times, during school holidays, on children’s channels or around children’s programming relative to other time periods, channels or programming genres”

The power of marketing

The scientific studies reviewed by WHO researchers also examined the power that these marketing messages exert over young audiences. It identified a number of tactics that the food sector employs to gain sway over younger audiences, including the use of celebrity/sports endorsements; promotional characters; promotions, gifts/incentives and tie-ins; competitions; games; colour, visual imagery and novel designs; animation, dynamic elements and special effects; branding; persuasive appeals; health/nutrition claims and disclaimers; and various other engagement techniques.