The marketing of unhealthy food to children has been disastrously effective and is only making childhood obesity even more of a problem, says The World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO is calling for more control on marketing unhealthy foods high in sugars, salt, and trans fats. These types of foods are only contributing to the ever-increasing childhood obesity pandemic.

Extreme obesity is affecting more children at younger ages, according to a Kaiser Permanente study of 710,949 children and teens that was publiched online in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Nearly 1 in 10 British children attending reception class in 2011-12, aged 4-5 years, were classed as obese.

The tightening of restrictions on marketing were detailed in the new report titled “Marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugar to children”.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the WHO’s regional unit for Europe, said that there are millions of young people in Europe who are exposed to unhealthy food marketing practices considered to be “unacceptable”.

Jakab added:

“Children are surrounded by adverts urging them to consume high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt foods, even when they are in places where they should be protected, such as schools and sports facilities.”

The promotion of unhealthy foods high in salt, sugars, and fats has been known to be a major cause of childhood obesity and other diet-related diseases.

Children are especially vulnerable to being targeted by advertising, which can drive their unhealthy decisions when it comes to food. Children are being exploited by new means of marketing channels, such as smart phone apps and social media.

In addition, the majority of children and teens watch over two hours of TV every day – TV has become the most dominant form of advertising these products.

A study of Hispanic children in the U.S., published in the American Journal of Health Promotion., found that children with TVs in their bedrooms were more likely to be overweight.

“Bedroom TVs lead to more screen time, sedentary behavior, less parental support of physical activity and increased fast food intake,” said Du Feng, Ph.D., lead study author.

Children who watch more TV tend to be at a higher risk of becoming obese. According to new studies, these children are not only at a higher risk of becoming obese due to living sedentary lifestyle and inactivity, but also because of increased exposure to advertising of unhealthy foods.

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Children exposed to soft drinks adverts are more likely to buy the sugary drinks.

The most commonly advertised foods are:

  • Soft drinks
  • Biscuits
  • Fast-food outlets
  • Confectionery
  • Snack foods
  • Heavily sweetened breakfast cereals
  • Ready meals

Children who are exposed to multiple brands that produce unhealthy foods by the age of 4 are at a much greater risk of eating unhealthily and becoming obese.

In fact, overweight children increase their consumption in response to the increased presence of branded food packaging.

Even though all 53 Member States in the European Region agreed to restrict marketing of unhealthy foods, only six countries have implemented fully regulatory approaches on marketing foods or drinks to children.

The report highlights the need to reduce exposure of unhealthy foods to children across the EU.

In the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology, researchers published findings that suggest obesity could be responsible for disrupting the timing of puberty, as well as leading to a diminished ability to reproduce.

Two reports published in JAMA found that the prevalence of obesity in the United States is very high – 1 in 3 children in the U.S. is considered obese.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association recently published a study about the negative influence advertising has on children’s food choices, in The Journal of Pediatrics.

According to a doctor collective by the AAP and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many health professionals in the U.S. are trying to enforce a ban on fast food ads on TV in order to tackle the country’s youth obesity problem.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist