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Action on Sugar

A future for the world’s children? A WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission


Authors of a report published today in the Lancet say that despite dramatic improvements in survival, nutrition, and education over recent decades, today’s children face an uncertain future.

The UK is one of the worst places in the world when it comes to delivering on emission targets while exploitative marketing practices pushing fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children are having a devastating effect, according to the report.

  • We've summarised some take home points below, you can access the full report here.
  • WHO describes the rapid rise in childhood obesity as “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”
  • Number of obese children and adolescents increased ten times from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016.
  • Urbanisation has increased access to junk food and reduced access to play areas and safe exercise spaces.
  • To thrive at school, children must be healthy and well nourished-Ill health and poor nutritional status impair learning.
  • Many politicians do not prioritise investing in children, nor see it as the foundation for broader societal improvements.
  • A multisectoral approach is needed to ensure children and adolescents survive and thrive.
  • Political commitment at executive level is needed to coordinate across sectors, ensuring universal health coverage; good nutrition and food security for all.

Advertising and marketing

  • Children around the world are enormously exposed to advertising from business, whose marketing techniques exploit their developmental vulnerability and whose products can harm their health and wellbeing.
  • Most commonly reported persuasive techniques used on television to promote food to children were the use of premium offers, promotional characters, nutrition and health-related claims
  • Companies make huge profits from marketing products directly to children and promoting addictive or unhealthy commodities, including fast foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Marketing of products to children and adolescents provides excellent dividends for companies, driving household spending, and creating brand loyalties across the lifespan.
  • Industry self-regulation does not work-A far stronger and more comprehensive approach to regulation is required.
  • Newer techniques, such as the use of so-called ‘kidfluencers’ (social media endorsement deals for children and teenagers), are barely on the radar of parents and regulators.
  • Children worldwide are also highly exposed to advertising for products nominally for use by adults only, such as alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes, with exposure to advertising associated with greater consumption.

The report calls for a new global movement driven by and for children, with its recommendations including:

  • Stop CO2 emissions with the utmost urgency, to ensure children have a future on this planet
  • Place children and adolescents at the centre of our efforts to achieve sustainable development
  • New policies and investment in all sectors to work towards child health and rights
  • Incorporate children's voices into policy decisions
  • Tighten national regulation of harmful commercial marketing, supported by a new optional protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Media Coverage:

Food Navigator (AoS comment)

BBC News

I News

The Guardian

Holly Gabriel, Registered Nutritionist at Action on Sugar said:

"In order to tackle the UK’s biggest public health crisis and improve the health and future of every child, it's imperative that we have mandated targets (and not self-regulation) to reduce not only sugar but also salt and saturated fat in food and drink – particularly given the slow response by certain food and drink manufacturers to the current voluntary programmes. Furthermore, we must not ignore the other crucial factors that would also cut costs and save lives. 

This report shows the market is flooded with unhealthy food and drink options which are irresponsibly marketed and promoted to children and parents; this needs to stop now.

In addition, other crucial factors such as escalating and extending the Soft Drink Industry Levy, introducing a calorie levy on all energy dense processed foods that meet an agreed criteria set by government, enforceable salt reduction targets, and front of pack uniform colour-coded nutrition labelling are all equally important, if we are to turn the tide on childhood obesity."




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