Reducing Children’s Exposure to Food Advertising - A Success Story from Denmark  

A recent report released by the Forum of Responsible Food Marketing Communication shows a significant fall in the number of food commercials aimed at children under the age of 13 between 2007 and 2013 in Denmark. These important findings are fuelling confidence among policy-makers around the world in the power of industry self-regulation.

In 2008, the Code of Food Marketing Communications to Children was signed in Denmark. An industry-wide effort facilitated by the Forum of Responsible Food Marketing Communication, the Code is applied across media and aims to ensure advertising of food products with high sugar, fats and salt will not be directed at children under 13.

So far, the implementation of the Code has achieved significant outcomes. Key findings from the report showed that, while nearly 1500 commercials aimed at children were broadcast on Denmark’s primary channel TV2 in 2007, this figure went down to only eight in 2013.Those eight commercials were broadcast immediately before adults’ programmes and were the result of different audience definitions by the external evaluator Gallup TV.

Chocolates, bread, dairy and cakes were among the product categories that saw the biggest drop in the amount of advertising aimed at children during that period. The compliance monitoring exercise also reported a total absence of adverts in children’s magazines and no breach of the code in other printed media.

These achievements were largely the result of cooperation and participation from food companies who have taken the responsibility to proactively comply with the Code. The high level of commitment from the advertisers portrays the industry’s willingness to play its part in responsible advertising of its products.

In Asia, food companies are echoing the same spirit. For instance, in Singapore, a multi-stakeholder public-private partnership, chaired by the Ministry of Health and the Advertising Standards Authority brought together a diverse group of experts from Government, the food industry, media partners and consumer groups, to develop a comprehensive set of guidelines to reduce children’s exposure to the marketing of less healthy foods.

The new guidelines have been incorporated into the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) and will take effect from 1 January 2015 onwards. From this date, all food and beverage products promoted in marketing communications targeted at children aged 12 and below are required to meet a common set of nutrient criteria, which were designed by a team of nutritionists and food scientists within the public-private consortium.

Applied across all media platforms, the guidelines provide a tailor-made set of robust standards for food marketing while taking into account the complexity of diets and food choices in Singapore.

The effectiveness of the self-regulation model will continue to be tested in 2015 as governments in several Asian countries work with the industry to scale up the approach.

Commenting on these developments, Will Gilroy, Director of Communications at the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), observed, “Self-regulatory systems are constantly evolving in line with Government and consumer expectations. In Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore, we are seeing self-regulation practice being recognised and embraced. This is a global trend that continues to gain traction and there is still much work to do in establishing the right level of training and monitoring after the practice is put to effect. Fortunately, the early signals are very encouraging. Leading companies in Asia, and around the world, are showing high-level participation and transparency in their self-regulatory commitments. This sends a strong signal to policy makers that a partnership-based approach can work.”

Bev Postma, Executive Director of FIA agreed with these sentiments saying, “Securing health and wellness outcomes for consumers in Asia is a complex challenge that involves the joint efforts and contribution from all stakeholders. By providing people with choices and science-based information that empower them to make decisions for a healthy life, the food industry is playing an important role in promoting healthy, balanced lifestyles. FIA is pleased to be working with its members to drive a broad range of self-regulatory measures towards that shared goal."

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