In July, 2016, the Food and Beverage Alliance of India (FBAI) published a pledge by all its member companies, under the patronage of a global self-regulatory alliance of foods and beverage companies on ‘India’s Policy on Marketing Communications to Children’. Keeping in line with this pledge, several top food and beverage corporate brands such as Kellogg, Pepsi-Co, Mondelez India, Nestle and Coca-Cola, are preparing for the 31 December deadline for halting all advertisements of products directed at children below 12 years of age. This policy could, in many ways, completely change the ways in which the largest foods brands in the country are promoted. Moreover, it could also mean enormous changes in the public health landscape of the country.

Fatty foods must be discouraged and a national health policy framework should be in place. AFPFatty foods must be discouraged and a national health policy framework should be in place. AFP

Fatty foods must be discouraged and a national health policy framework should be in place. AFP

The FBAI policy states that all its members will either commit to “only advertise products to children under the age of 12 years that meet common FBAI pledge nutrition criteria” or not to advertise their products at all to children below the age of 12. The former commitment would require member companies to adhere to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for the establishment of nutrient profiles, which is used for various applications, including marketing of foods to children, health and nutrition claims, product labelling logos or symbols, information and education, provision of food to public institutions, and the use of economic tools to orient food consumption.. The policy will apply to marketing communications in a range of media — television, radio, print, cinema, online (including company-owned websites), DVD/CD-ROM, direct marketing, product placement, interactive games, outdoor marketing mobile and SMS marketing. The FBAI, the policy states, will also publish periodic reports to demonstrate compliance with this policy.

A number of countries have already established legislations and policy guidelines on food advertising for children and youth, understanding the implications of advertisements on the dietary practices of these age groups.

South Korea passed the Special Act on Safety Control of Children’s Dietary Life in 2009. The objective of the law is to contribute to the promotion of children’s health by regulating necessary matters for providing safe and well-balanced nutritional foods to help children develop good eating habits. To promote this objective, the act banned television advertisements on specific food categories during children’s prime time viewing, and also proscribed against gratuitous incentives when advertising children’s foods on TV, radio, and internet (such as offering free toys or gifts with the purchase of nutritionally inadequate foods). In the United Kingdom, the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) has prohibited advertising foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) on children’s television, stating the media has a responsibility to help curb the rise in childhood obesity and levels of diabetes.

The EU Health Coalition has also come up with a campaign called ‘AVMSD: What about our kids?’, describing it as “a key opportunity to free Europe’s young people from health-harmful marketing”. It targets the current Audio Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) by restricting the hours in which advertising for harmful and unhealthy foods and beverages would be aired. The three key measures in this campaign is that no television advertisements for alcohol or HFSS would run between 6 am to 11 pm, there would be effective marketing techniques in place against product placement, and it would be ensured that these rules would apply to foreign broadcasts as well.

Responsible advertising and marketing of food and drinks directed towards children and the youth is a World Health Organisation (WHO) prerogative, and it’s a key policy action within the WHO Global Action Plan 2013–2020 for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), which was endorsed by the World Health Assembly in May 2013. A recommendation from WHO is that governments play a leading role in reducing children’s overall exposure to food marketing and setting rules on the persuasive techniques companies can use, with a view to protect children from the adverse effects of unhealthy foods. Other key recommendations included that private sector markets understand that marketing of foods and drinks to children is an “international issue” and that there is a need for the corporate sector to be equally accountable for the outcome “…to promote responsible marketing including the development of a set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, in order to reduce the impact of foods high in saturated fats, transfatty acids, free sugars, or salt, in dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, including private-sector parties, while ensuring avoidance of potential conflict of interest”.

At this point, India lacks a framework of public health, legal and economic policies for effective implementation of the WHO recommendations that provide for a comprehensive reduction of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars and salt to children. However, the FBAI policy guidelines seem like a good first step towards tackling this issue. That being said there needs to be regulations in place within the National Health Policy to cater to this issue, and it must be driven by the Ministry of Health, rather than being anchored by an alliance of private sector companies.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 08:47 IST

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Food and Beverage Alliance policy guidelines are a good step, but India’s public health framework is a worry