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Unilever crackdown on unhealthy food marketing as CDA calls for ban on advertising junk food

21 Apr 2022 — Unilever is raising the age for restricting F&B marketing to children aged between 13-16 in recognition of the influence social media and digital adverts can have on young people. At the same time, the scientific institute of Dutch political party Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA) is calling for a ban on advertising junk food and fast food to children.

These measures are deemed necessary to stop the unprecedented spread of disease related to the consumption of foods in this category. 

Unilever has updated its global principles for responsible marketing to children. At present, the F&B industry merely restricts marketing to children under 13 years.

The principles will apply across Unilever’s food and refreshment portfolio, including ice cream. The deadline for brands to comply with these further enhanced principles is January 2023.

“By making these changes, our goal is to reduce children’s exposure to advertising from the food and beverage industry, and instead support parents to select appropriate treats to be enjoyed from time to time,” says Matt Close, president, ice cream, Unilever. 

In addition, the CDA maintains that throwing more money, care and personnel at the problem of lifestyle-related illnesses is not a feasible solution. Gerard Adelaar, author of the report tells NutritionInsight: “According to the Roman philosopher Musonius Rufus, controlling your appetite was the foundation for character development – and therefore freedom. Ultra processed foods have made that nearly impossible.”

“We have lost a food culture now that industrial food is available ‘on every street corner’, with wrong advertisements, at very low prices that unfairly compete with unprocessed food. These have to be banned from our lives,” says Adelaar.

Restricting access to fast foodAccording to Unilever’s updated principles, data about children under 16 may not be collected.
The CDA report (translated), “Healthy living: Caring for the body as a community asset,” recommends that limits on the availability of fast food be imposed, a ban on marketing unhealthy products and that the food industry be stimulated to carry out these changes by making unhealthy food more expensive in comparison with other foods.

Adelaar notes: “A new food culture would be something beautiful. It is the goal of our total package of policy proposals. Eating is more than grabbing something you like. It’s about living well. It also has a spiritual element: of being together, sharing and celebrating.”

“The corona crisis has shown that we have a large issue with lifestyle and related diseases. Only, the role of food has inadequately been recognized. Already 50% of the Dutch are too heavy, and they are not an exception.”

According to the report, unhealthy food is so widely available that people are becoming ill unnecessarily. Obesity, diabetes, heart and lung disease and cancer are among the illnesses that can be triggered by an unhealthy diet. Children are becoming used to eating unhealthy food at a young age.

A new “prevention agreement” has to be signed by all stakeholders and the institute aims to work with politicians and policymakers to create the necessary regulations such as a ban on certain advertisements as well as price regulation of healthy and unhealthy foods.

The institute also urges that children be educated about food by introducing school lunches at a primary school level and suggests that the minimum age for fast food be considered, such as those for alcohol and tobacco. 

“It is crucial to ensure that our food supply serves people’s health and that the advantages enjoyed by industrial, processed food are removed,” says Adelaar.

This should all be accompanied by a massive publicity offensive to encourage people to eat less industrial, ultra processed-food and better regulation of the industrial food sector, Adelaar recommends. 

Several Dutch municipalities, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, have urged the government to create the legal tools to stop an overload of fast-food restaurants.

“They often see that empty shop spaces are filled up with fast-food restaurants and they have mixed feelings about this,” says Ruben van Dorssen, Dutch health ministry spokesman. 

“On one hand, you are doing all of this work with sports clubs, programs to get people moving and education at school and on the other, children are walking through districts where there is a huge amount of advertising and less healthy things on offer,” he says.

Children under 16 are off-limitsThe CDA urges that the connection between fast food and ill health will not be solved by investing more money in healthcare.
Unilever’s marketing and point of sale communications comply with all relevant country laws and regulations and self-regulatory codes. In some countries, including, for example, the UK and Portugal, existing codes and rules mean that these new principles are already either partially met, fully met or exceeded.

The enhanced principles include:

• Not targeting children under 16 years old with any marketing or social media communications.

• Not collecting or storing data on children under 16.

• Not using influencers, celebrities or social media stars under the age of 16 or

primarily appeal to children under the age of 16.

• Providing clear and prominent disclosure of provisions to influencers and limiting child

appeal to influencer content.

• Continuing to refrain from promoting brands or products in schools, except for participation in educational campaigns.

The last major update was in 2020 when Unilever announced it would stop marketing and advertising foods and refreshments to children under 12 in traditional media and under the age of 13 via social media channels.

By Inga de Jong


This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.


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