Regulating food and alcohol marketing to children

Children are known to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of marketing. Despite unequivocal evidence that unhealthy food and alcohol marketing negatively influences their consumption preferences, purchase requests and dietary patterns, children continue to be exposed to comprehensive, multifaceted, integrated and increasingly immersive marketing campaigns promoting unhealthy food and alcoholic beverages.

The Law & NCD Unit has built a unique expertise in the regulation of food and alcohol marketing and has been involved in key policy initiatives assisting international organisations, public health agencies, States and non-governmental organisations worldwide in the implementation of the WHO set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children and the WHO Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, which the Member States of the World Health Assembly unanimously endorsed in May 2010.

We are particularly grateful to the UK Economic and Social Research Council who supported Professor Amandine Garde’s work on the regulation of food marketing to children back in 2013 and allowed her to spend a period of time at the World Health Organization in Geneva and Cairo (Grant Number: ES/J020761/1). This project was instrumental in the direction our work has taken since.

Below is a selection of our activities on the regulation of food and alcohol marketing.

    Marketing and children's rights
    • The Law & NCD Unit was commissioned to write a major report for UNICEF on Food Marketing and Children's Rights (2018). The report enriches the existing literature by analysing unhealthy food marketing as a major children's rights issue. By reflecting on the extent to which unhealthy food marketing negatively affects children's rights and the consequences for States and business actors, it contributes to the broader reflection on the importance of adopting a human rights-based approach to preventing NCDs. This approach is at the heart of the WHO Global Action Plan on the prevention and control of NCDs 2013-2020 and is highlighted in the final report of the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (2016). It contends that the Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most ratified human rights instrument in the world – provides a highly practical and desirable framework for the prevention of obesity and related NCDs, whereby children are identified as rights holders and Member States as the corresponding duty bearers. This approach maintains that the CRC and other international human rights instruments should guide all policies that have a foreseeable impact on children, including the regulation of unhealthy food marketing, as matters engaging States' international obligations and potential responsibility. The report was written by Amandine Garde, Seamus Byrne, Nikhil Gokani and Ben Murphy.
    • To reflect further on the value of a children's approach to childhood obesity and NCD prevention, the Unit organised a seminar on food marketing and children's rights in Liverpool in December 2017. This workshop – which brought together academic colleagues, policy actors, international organisations and civil society - explored how children's rights could contribute to ending childhood obesity and provide a potentially powerful advocacy tool for the public health community to increase the pressure on policy makers to move from evidence to evidence-based policies through the effective implementation of the WHO set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. The workshop was divided into two main parts. The first part, through 17 concise five-minute presentations, provided an opportunity for participants to share their recent work on the regulation of food marketing to children, followed by a discussion. The second part consisted of four group discussions, each focusing on a specific theme: (1) from evidence to evidence-based policies – improving national regulatory frameworks on food marketing to children; (2) regulating cross-border food marketing at EU level; (3) business actors, human rights and food marketing to children; and (4) child participation – working for children with children.
    • The Law & NCD Unit has trained a range of NGOs and NGO federations involved in public health, children's rights and consumer protection on the potential of a human rights approach to alcohol marketing, including our workshop for IOGT International in Bratislava in September 2016. Unit members have participated in major policy conferences in this area, including Amandine Garde at the Global Alcohol Policy Conference in 2015 (Edinburgh), and Ben Murphy at the European Alcohol Policy Conference in 2016 (Ljubljana).
    Implementing the WHO set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children
    • Professor Amandine Garde wrote a report on the implementation of the WHO set of recommendations on food marketing in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (2018). As part of this work, the Law & NCD Unit also provided training to a range of governments in the Region on the regulation of food marketing and more broadly the use of law to promote healthier diets. For example, Professor Amandine Garde, Dr Gregory Messenger and Dr Joshua Curtis travelled to Oman and ran a three-day workshop for officials from different branches of government (Muscat, May 2017).
    • Amandine Garde was a member of an interdisciplinary expert group for a study by INSERM, published in April 2017, following a major policy conference held in Paris to inform the public health community of its outcome.
    • Amandine Garde co-wrote a report for INPES for a study with Marine Friant-Perrot (University of Nantes) on the impact of marketing on children's food preferences.
    • We have contributed to the development of legal capacity building training courses of various lengths for international organisations (including WHO and IDLO), governments, public health agencies, consumer, public health and children's rights organisations. In particular, our four-day bi-regional workshop for the WHO Regional Offices for Europe and the East-Mediterranean, held in Amman in June 2015, assisted Member States in implementing the WHO Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. It was attended by 13 governments from the East-Mediterranean and the European Regions, in addition to lawyers, consumer organisations and other public health professionals. The workshop served as a model for the development of the subsequent WHO bi-regional workshop, which took place in Kuala Lumpur on 1-4 December 2015 for the WHO Regional Offices for South-East Asia and the West-Pacific, and was followed by bespoke training to the Omani government. For more details, please see our Courses and supervision page.
    • Amandine Garde, in April 2016, participated as an expert on food marketing and children's rights in the meeting of the WHO Europe Action Network on Reducing Marketing Pressures on Children at the Annual Meeting of the Action Network on Reducing Marketing Pressures on Children in Lisbon.
    • Amandine Garde, in October 2014, participated as an external temporary adviser in the CINDI policy academy on alcohol marketing to children in Porto.
    Academic publications on food and alcohol marketing

    These projects rest on a solid track record of academic publications on food and alcohol marketing, particularly to children. In particular:

    • Amandine Garde recently guest edited a Special Issue for the European Journal of Risk Regulation on the implementation in Europe of the WHO Recommendations on food marketing to children. Several Unit members have contributed to this issue (Oliver Bartlett, Seamus Byrne, Amandine Garde, Nikhil Gokani and Ben Murphy), as well as several other colleagues (Emma Boyland, Anaëlle Chansay, Sue Davies, Marine Friant-Perrot, Bill Jeffery, Jane Landon, Katharina Ó Cathaoir, Neville Rigby, Hedda Bjøralt Roald, Mimi Tatlow-Golden, Marie Vaale-Hallberg, and Godfrey Xuereb), with a foreword by Gerard Hastings. In light of the latest evidence available on the relationship between food marketing and childhood obesity, the Special Issue reflects on the implementation of the WHO Recommendations by the European Union and several of its Member States, noting how relatively little has been done in Europe overall to protect children from unhealthy food marketing.
    • A Garde (ed), Special Issue on the Implementation in Europe of the WHO Recommendations on Food Marketing to Children, European Journal of Risk Regulation, 8(2) (2017)
    • A Garde, "The Implementation in Europe of the World Health Organization Recommendations on Food Marketing to Children: Introduction to the Special Issue" (2017) 8(2) European Journal of Risk Regulation 209
    • A Garde and G Xuereb, "The WHO Recommendations on the Marketing of Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children" (2017) 8(2) European Journal of Risk Regulation 211
    • A Garde, B Jeffery and N Rigby, "Implementing the WHO Recommendations whilst Avoiding Real, Perceived or Potential Conflicts of Interest" (2017) 8(2) European Journal of Risk Regulation 237
    • O Bartlett and A Garde, "The EU's Failure to Support Member States in their Implementation of the WHO Recommendations: How to Ignore the Elephant in the Room?" (2017) 8(2) European Journal of Risk Regulation 251
    • A Garde, S Davies and J Landon, "The UK Rules on Unhealthy Food Marketing to Children" (2017) 8(2) European Journal of Risk Regulation 270
    • M Friant-Perrot, A Garde and A Chansay, "Regulating Food Marketing: France as a Disappointing Example" (2017) 8(2) European Journal of Risk Regulation 311
    • A Garde, S Byrne, N Gokani, B Murphy, "For a Children's Rights Approach to Obesity Prevention: The Key Role of an Effective Implementation of the WHO Recommendations" (2017) 8(2) European Journal of Risk Regulation 327

    Other Law & NCD Unit publications on food and alcohol marketing to children include: