Does this mean no more Happy Meals? Wishful thinking. (Photo: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters)
Noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease and—especially—childhood obesity are reaching epidemic proportions, even in low- and middle-income countries. These maladies are often linked to environment and diet. It's an impossible dream to move everyone who lives in an at-risk area to a healthy new town, but something can be done about crucial lifelong eating habits, or so the United Nations seems to believe.
That global governing body's World Health Organization (WHO) wants to crack down on fast-food industry leaders who are marketing harmful products to children. The WHO recommends tackling both the frequency of “junk food” advertising, as well as packaging gimmicks that entice children (think Happy Meal toys).
WHO officials consulted executives from Coca-Cola and Pepsico, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft and Mickey D’s. The firms agreed to draw up a code of conduct and committed to not market unhealthy products to children under the age of 12, reported Reuters.
Great, except the WHO suspects that some companies don't honor their commitment in poor countries the way they appear to in developed regions. Government enforcement of the advertising restrictions is key. That’s lacking in small, poor countries.
On the flip side, the WHO claims advertising can also promote a healthy diet. At least in the U.S., some states are making strides in that area. The Network for a Healthy California has allocated $985,000 in the 2011 fiscal year for outdoor advertising to promote healthy eating and physical activity, reports the Merced Sun Star. Compared to the estimated $300 million spent on fast-food advertising, that’s a tiny carrot going up against a big stick.