Voluntary business commitments fail to ‘effectively protect children’ from marketing ‘unbalanced foods’. That’s the conclusion of a new report commissioned by the German Federation of Consumer Organizations (VZBV).
The study, written by Dr Peter von Philipsborn, an MD and nutritionist at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, found existing voluntary commitments exclude ‘important forms of marketing’ – such as packaging targeting children and digital exposure – and offer ‘many loopholes. ‘due to unclear definitions.
The report examined foods targeted at children and found that most of the products advertised were processed foods with a high energy density and high levels of sugar, salt and saturated fat. He noted that German children are exposed to between 2,700 and 7,800 online marketing steps for such foods on the Internet each year.
The so-called ‘gap’ includes using guideline values for sugar, fat and salt ‘well below’ the nutritional criteria developed by the World Health Organization. It was also emphasized that packaging is an important tool for communicating brand appeal that falls completely outside of voluntary commitments.
‘Voluntary commitment cannot work’: VZBV
This has prompted calls for the federal government to “tightly regulate” marketing to children.
“So far, the federal government has relied on voluntary self-control from the industry to limit the unequal marketing of food to children. However, unbalanced, highly processed products often result in higher profit margins than healthy foods. Therefore, it is clear that voluntary commitments cannot work, “German Consumer Association board member Klaus Müller argued.
VZBV emphasized that, despite the failure of the voluntary approach, the Federal Ministry of Food continues to rely on reaching consensus with industry, for example, asking the German Advertising Council to revise rules of food behavior with a focus on children.
“The German Advertising Council Sponsor is an association representing the confectionery and sweet drinks industry as well as the food, advertising and tobacco industries,”VZVB insisted.
Müller said it was time for regulators to take a firmer stance: “The Federal Government must ultimately better protect children’s health and strictly regulate the marketing of food aimed at children.” person
What will it look like? According to the VZBV, ‘comprehensive legal regulation’ means that food can only be marketed to children if it meets WHO nutritional criteria. And this should include ‘all forms of advertising’ – TV, online, posters, influencers – as well as product design and sponsorship.
Consumer organizations believe there is public opinion behind it. A 2020 study conducted on behalf of the group found 83% of German consumers support the maximum legal levels of fat, salt and sugar in foods marketed to children.
Advertising isn’t the ‘main’ cause of obesity: ZAW
The German Advertising Federation – ZAW – has the opposite view.
“Claims for further legal restrictions on food advertising aimed at children continue to be vigorously filed in Germany. This suit will be rejected for several reasons, “ZAW said in a policy statement.
The association said voluntary commitments and the existing legal framework had ‘restricted’ HFSS food advertising ‘to the last detail’.
He also pointed out that advertising bans fail to address the root causes of childhood obesity. “The main causes of obesity in childhood are lack of exercise and a family lifestyle, which has a decisive influence on children’s socialization.” person
Scapegoating ads essentially allows parents ‘who shouldn’t be relinquished from their responsibilities’ to get away, ZAW argued.
“The new advertising ban is the wrong way to change unhealthy eating habits. Instead, focus should be placed on promoting a healthy lifestyle. “ person
The German food industry association BVE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.