Mahmoud’s school is surrounded by junk food but a fruit and vegetable stall is helping families to make healthier choices.
One important aspect of the food environment, and a major influence on a child’s diet, is food marketing. Advertisements, food packaging and digital campaigns targeted at children are building demand for junk food, fast food and sugary drinks. This rise in food marketing is directly linked to the increase of childhood obesity. Children are exposed to a huge volume of marketing for unhealthy foods every day. A recent study conducted across 22 countries found that for every one advertisement for healthy foods, there were four promoting unhealthy foods. This disparity is even greater in high-income countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Lower income countries are also seeing a rapid rise in unhealthy food consumption. From 2011 to 2016, fast-food sales grew by 113 per cent in India, 83 per cent in Viet Nam and 64 per cent in Egypt. In comparison to traditional television and print marketing, digital marketing poses a unique challenge. Globally, one in three internet users is estimated to be a child. With the rise of smartphones, food marketers have a direct channel for advertising that can precisely target children, and is available to them almost all of the time.
Without effective regulation, this constant stream of food marketing – on TV, in print, on digital channels – is impossible for children to escape. Government legislation appears to be the most effective way to reduce unhealthy food sales, and the World HealthOrganization urges governments to commit to ending childhood obesity by using proven approaches promote better nutrition and to regulate marketing of unhealthy food to children.