Industry doesn’t adequately protect kids from junk food ads, Secretary of State investigates legal ban

In order to protect children from harm to health, manufacturers in the Netherlands have agreed not to target unhealthy products to children under the age of 13. However, 40 percent of kids watch fast food ads. New research shows that this is due to social media, where age limits appear to be fake, but also due to the self-regulatory system surrounding junk food advertising rules.

Henri Faun of the research agency Panteia conducted the research on behalf of Foodwatch Food Watch. What are the conclusions of Faun, who also monitors children’s marketing for the Department of Health? “We have seen through the screen for years that marketing of unhealthy foods continues to reach children despite the rules in place. In the supermarket or in recreational facilities, and increasingly via social media. New research shows that the self-regulatory system of advertising is one of the reasons that “.

Only a few complaints a year

Faun stands for the Dutch Declaration Code for Food Products (RvV). In it, manufacturers agreed with each other on how to prevent children from seeing ads for fast food. But this system does not protect children well? “What we have seen is that consumer organizations are not allowed to submit amendment proposals. Moreover, when other parties, such as industry and advertising agencies, submit proposals, their votes have less importance.” So the changes are also approved if consumer organizations vote against them, Vaughn explains. “While consumer organizations are calling for stricter rules, they will not come.”

For this reason, the Consumers Association suspended its collaboration with the Advertising Code Foundation last year. They no longer wanted to go this way, and it turned out that their input had no effect.

Faun also sees points for attention when it comes to overseeing compliance with existing rules. “The control is only there when a complaint is made and this only happens a few times a year, while in our monitoring we see that many violations appear to occur.” In addition, the advertising law is not adequately directed to developments on social media. This is a big gray area, where it’s hard to control who sees the ads. There, kids can be exposed to a lot of ads for unhealthy foods.”

Food advertisements contribute to obesity in children

The system of self-regulation surrounding food advertising and its consequences is sensitive, because the government made agreements in 2018 to reduce overweight among children. 16 percent of children ages 4 to 17 are overweight. The number of teens has doubled in 30 years. Advertising of food contributes to obesity. Scientist Frans Volkford from Tilburg University conducted research in this regard: “There is a clear effect that if people watch ads for fast food, they will also eat unhealthy food afterwards. This effect is stronger for children.”

So consumer organizations have been calling for stricter rules for years. In 2015, Alliance Stop Child Marketing Unhealthy Food was founded. Universities and municipalities joined as well as UNICEF and the Dutch Pediatric Association. They just want to promote healthy food for kids up to 18 years old.

Nicole van Gemmert, director of Foodwatch, who is also part of the coalition, found the reason for the new research for the legal ban on marketing to children: “I read in this report that butchers inspect their own meat, so that stricter rules don’t stand a chance. The current system does not guarantee health.”

FNLI wants to stay in touch

The Dutch Food Industry Association (FNLI) is responsible for RvV. They indicate that they want to make adjustments to the rules again next year. Director Sis-Jan Adema: “We want to raise the age to 16. We will enter into discussions with stakeholders about the standards for the products to which this will apply. We are also looking at the possibility of pre-assessment and investigating how to make compliance with the Code on social media more regulated.” According to FNLI, the starting point is to always be and remain in dialogue with all stakeholders.

The Ad Code Foundation, which facilitates the ad code, says it is surprised it was not consulted in the report. They see incorrect assumptions and have therefore entered into consultations with the research agency. The Advertising Code Foundation makes sense that the consumer’s voice should be less important, because these are the rules the industry has imposed on itself.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs is investigating the ban

Secretary of State Martin van Augen of Public Health wrote in response that he thought it was important to change something. “I have already been in discussions with FNLI, as the owner of the code, to tighten the code in two areas: raising the minimum age from 13 to 18 so that social media is also part of the code, and tightening nutrition standards. We are still discussing both points.”

Additionally, Van Ooijen is exploring a number of legal options in the food environment: “Banning marketing to children is part of this. I will be reporting to the House of Representatives this fall on the results of this legal exploration. If the industry does not act sufficiently, the legislation may be in order.”

know more? Watch our broadcast:

Leave a Comment