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WHO Targets The TV in Child Obesity Prevention


As a part of their campaign for child obesity prevention, the World Health Organization (WHO) is endorsing recommendations aimed to reduce the television marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children.

There are a staggering 42 million children worldwide, pre-school aged and younger, that are either overweight or obese. The WHO recognizes that food preferences and eating habits of children are largely influenced by television marketing campaigns. Data shows that the larger portion of television advertising to children is for “non-core” food items which are low in nutritional value and high in calories, fat, salt, and sugar.

In May of 2010, the WHO released a specific set of internationally-endorsed recommendations to reduce the marketing of foods and beverages to children. In a meeting this week executive board members discussed the best ways to encourage country leaders to implement these recommendations for child obesity prevention.

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WHO officials have already been collaborating with companies such as Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's and Nestle. These companies, along with may others, previously drafted a code of conduct and made a commitment to halt advertising of unhealthy foods to children under the age of 12. However, not all companies have complied with the code. The WHO declines to name these companies, but does acknowledge that there needs to be more government commitments to the issue for the long-term success of the campaign.

Dr. Ala Alwan, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, states, “implementing these recommendations by countries will strengthen their ability to foster and encourage health dietary choices for children and promote the maintenance of a healthy weight.”

Children who are overweight are likely remain overweight or obese throughout their lives. This places a tremendous health burden on societies. Obesity and poor diet are major contributing factors in non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease. These four diseases account for 60% of all deaths worldwide. Many of these deaths are premature and preventable.

The United Nations General High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases will be held in September in New York State. Leaders are being encouraged to participate in he meeting which will discuss ongoing topics, including the child obesity prevention campaign.

Updated 8/5/2013.