Code on food marketing to children needs accepted rating
Protecting New Zealand children from exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods needs a world standard food rating system, according to new research from the University of Auckland.
A study published today [Sept 9] in the New Zealand Medical Journal, compared three accepted nutrient profiling systems and found that the World Health Organization Europe's model was the most effective.
"This World Health Organization system needs to underpin the Advertising Standards Authority's revised Children's Code for Advertising Food," says lead author Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu from the National Institute for Health Innovation at the University of Auckland.
"Promotion of unhealthy foods and drinks is a significant, modifiable risk factor for child obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases," she says. "The study was to identify the best system to protect New Zealand children from exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks."
The Advertising Standards Authority is currently reviewing the code for advertising food to children and called for submissions in February this year. The review is expected to deliver a final recommendation in September.
The three nutrient profiling systems compared in the study were the Health Star Rating (HSR), the Ministry of Health Food and Beverage Classification System (FBCS), and the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe Nutrient Profiling Model.
"Under any of the three nutrient profiling systems, about a third (29-39 percent) of New Zealand packaged foods would be permitted to be marketed to children," says Professor Ni Mhurchu.
"Our study shows that the WHO Model restricts marketing of unhealthy foods more effectively than the other two systems," she says. "The HSR and FBCS systems would permit marketing of a number of food products of concern, particularly high-sugar breakfast cereals, fruit juices and ready meals."
The study examined 13,066 packaged foods from the 2014 New Zealand Nutritrack database and classified them as 'restricted' or 'not restricted' as per the WHO model; 'everyday/sometimes' or 'occasional' as per the FBCS model; and '<3.5 stars' or '≥3.5 stars' as per the HSR model.
Researchers determined the proportion and types of packaged foods that met the criteria for all three systems or none of the systems, and the types of food products classified as 'restricted' under the WHO model, but classified as 'everyday/sometimes' (FBCS model) or as having >3.5 stars.
Professor Ni Mhurchu says the effectiveness of the new Code in reducing New Zealand children's exposure to marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks should be evaluated by an independent body, but the only way the revised Code can begin to be effective is to adopt an accepted nutrient profiling system.
"Given the recognised weak nutritional standards employed by industry for defining healthy foods and because many child-oriented food marketers do not participate in self-regulation, the new Children's Code for Advertising Food should be subject to evaluation by an independent body," she says.
"If the revised voluntary code still proves ineffective in reducing New Zealand children's exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks, new policy and regulatory actions will be necessary."
"Comprehensive, independent reviews of the evidence consistently find that commercial food marketing has a direct effect on children's food preferences, purchase requests, consumption patterns, and diet-related health," she says.
"And current marketing practices predominantly promote unhealthy foods and drinks to children; foods promoted most commonly are pre-sugared breakfast cereals, soft drinks, savoury snacks, confectionery, and fast foods."