WHO: Don’t Let Them Market Cake

In Europe, World Health Organization would ban advertising for pastries, fruit pies, bubble gum

Ice pops are among the desserts that could not be marketed under rules proposed by the WHO. / Flickr Creative Commons
February 24, 2015

The health arm of the United Nations does not want companies advertising cake, ice cream, or ice pops to children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) developed a "European nutrient profile" to be used by countries in order to ban the marketing of desserts. The "Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Programme in the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and the Lifecourse at the WHO Regional Office for Europe" developed the model.

"This model is designed for use by governments for the purposes of restricting food marketing to children," the report said. "When determining whether a food product may or may not be marketed to children, a government (or food company) should take the following steps."

The model then divides foods into 17 different categories, detailing whether or not they are allowed to be advertised to children.

"Identify which food category the product falls under," the WHO said. "In some case this will be very clear according to the food category name (for example, breakfast cereals; yoghurts). In other cases, it may be necessary to reference the ‘included in category’ or ‘not included in category’ columns, and/or check the customs tariff code number."

Categories for milk and cheeses fell under grams of fat-based limits, while fruit and vegetables received a blanket statement of "permitted."

"A food product must not exceed on a per 100 g/ml basis any of the relevant thresholds for that food product category if marketing is to be permitted," the report said. "For example, in the case of breakfast cereals, a product must not exceed the criteria for total fat, total sugars or salt."

Banned without exception are pastries, croissants, cookies, sponge cakes, wafers, fruit pies, sweet buns, chocolate covered biscuits, cake mixes, and batters.

The list goes on: "Chocolate and other products containing cocoa; white chocolate; jelly, sweets and boiled sweets; chewing gum and bubble gum; caramels; liquorice sweets; spreadable chocolate and other sweet sandwich toppings; nut spreads, including peanut butter; cereal, granola and muesli bars; marzipan."

Advertising for ice cream, frozen yogurt, ice pops, sorbets, and energy drinks would also be banned.

"The list is not exhaustive and may be added to when used nationally," the report said.

The model would also apply to restaurant advertising, in which case every menu item featured would have to meet the necessary nutrition qualifiers.

The WHO developed the standards in response to passing the "Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020," in July 2013.

"The Vienna Declaration included a commitment to take ‘decisive action to reduce food marketing pressure to children with regard to foods high in energy, saturated fats, trans fatty acids, free sugars or salt’ and to develop and implement common policy approaches that promote, among other things, the use of common nutrient profiling tools," the report said.

The WHO said that the model is a "key activity in the European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015– 2020."

Following the Vienna Declaration the WHO’s "European Network on Reducing Marketing Pressure on Children" began overseeing the development of a nutrition model.

The WHO held an "expert meeting" in December 2013 on "necessary steps" followed by "in-country pilot testing."

The "nutrient profiling" model the WHO ultimately chose was based upon a Norwegian model and one created by the "Danish Forum of Responsible Food Marketing Communication."

The UN encourages member nations to adopt the model, though it is voluntary.

The report said that Denmark, Ireland, Norway, and the United Kingdom already use their own models to restrict marketing of less healthy foods.