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Health groups warn: World's children at risk from junk food marketing

29 July, 2003

The health of the children around the world is put at risk by the marketing of junk food, says a report from the Food Commission issued today.

The report, Broadcasting Bad Health: Why food marketing to children needs to be controlled, shows that:

  • The food-industry's global advertising budget is $40bn, a figure greater than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 70% of the world's nations.1
  • For every $1 spent by the World Health Organization on preventing the diseases caused by western diets, more than $500 is spent by the food industry promoting these diets. 1
  • In industrialised countries, food advertising accounts for around half of all advertising broadcast during children's TV viewing times. Three-quarters of such food adverts promote high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. 2
  • For countries with transitional economies (such as in Eastern Europe), typically 60% of Foreign Direct Investment in food production is for sugar, confectionery and soft drinks. For every $100 spent invested in fruit and vegetable production, over $1,000 is being invested in soft drinks and confectionery. 3
  • Over half the world's population lives in less-industrialised countries such as Russia, China and India and they are now suffering a rising tide of diet-related diseases as food companies export their products and their advertising practices. 4

This report comes at a time when international investment bank UBS Warburg (November 2002) and the international share analyst JP Morgan (April 2003) have warned some of the top-spending food advertisers (including Hershey, McDonald's, Tate & Lyle, Cadbury's, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Heinz and Nestlé) that they may be contributing to an obesity-promoting environment.

The companies were told that their share prices may be at risk because their profits rely on selling fatty and sugary foods, which are likely to be the subject of future regulation.

The report coincides with a major consultation by the World Health Organization (WHO) to address a rising tide of diet-related disease around the world. The WHO has identified as 'probable' or 'convincing' the scientific evidence that these diseases - including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and several common types of cancers - are linked to eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and sugar-sweetened drinks, backed by a cultural environment in which processed foods and fast-food outlets are heavily marketed.5

"Junk foods and sugary drinks are supported by enormous advertising budgets that dwarf any attempt to educate children about healthy diets," said research officer Kath Dalmeny, co-author of the Food Commission report. "Junk food advertisers know that children are especially susceptible to marketing messages. They target children as young as two years old with free toys, cartoon characters, gimmicky packaging and interactive websites to ensure that children pester their parents for the products."

Companies such as KFC, Burger King, McDonald's, Kinder, Mars, Cadbury's, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are criticised in the Food Commission report for targeting children. The report calls for international controls on the marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrient food to children.

Further information

Contact: 020 7837 2250

The 30-page report Broadcasting Bad Health: Why food marketing to children needs to be controlled has been prepared by the Food Commission on behalf of the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO).

IACFO was founded in 1997 as an alliance of non-governmental organizations that represent consumer interests in the areas of food safety, nutrition and related matters. The founding members are: The Food Commission (UK), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (USA), the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (Canada) and the Japan Offspring Fund.

The report Broadcasting Bad Health has been submitted to the World Health Organization consultation on a global strategy for diet and health. The consultation will lead to WHO proposals by spring 2004.

Click here to view Broadcasting Bad Health in PDF format.

Printed copies (not colour) can be obtained from the Food Commission at 94 White Lion Street, London N1 9PF, UK for £10.00 (postage and packing is free, all payment in pounds sterling). Note: printed versions are no longer available.


1. Lang,T &Millstone, E (eds) (2002) The Atlas of Food, Earthscan Books, GDP analysis based on GDP figures for 2002 from the World Bank Statistical Indicator (2003)
2. Survey data from: A Spoonful of Sugar: Television food advertising aimed at children, an international comparative survey. Consumers International Programme for Developed Economies, 1996
3. OECD (1998) Foreign Direct Investment in agri-food production, Eastern Europe ($4.04 billion), 1990-1997
4. WHO press release (April 2003) Launch of the WHO/FAO joint consultation report on diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases.
5. WHO Technical report series 916 (2003) Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases