World Health Assembly (WHA) May 17 to 21, 2010

Every year several members of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), attend the World Health Assembly (WHA) to advocate for the passage of global policies to advance infant and young child nutrition and health. This year there were two key items of importance for governments and those working to improve infant and young child nutrition and the protection of breastfeeding on the agenda of the WHA. Firstly revised and strengthened resolutions on Infant and young child nutrition WHA 63 Agenda item 11.6 and secondly, agenda item 11.9 dealing with the Marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children to reduce intakes of foods high in trans-fatty acids, saturated fats, salt and added sugars.

Canada’s lack of protection of infant optimal infant and young child nutrition remains shameful. We have little or no regulatory, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms in place to protect pregnant women, new mothers and families from the very aggressive, misleading and deceptive marketing by the infant formula and baby foods manufacturers and distributors.

The marketing of junk foods and drinks to children is yet another area that must be adequately regulated in order to safeguard children from the impact of foods and drinks high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, salt and added sugars. Currently the Province of Quebec is the only Canadian jurisdiction restricting junk food marketing to children. While monitoring and enforcement remain issues of concern regarding the Quebec legislation, the regulations can provide a model for what provinces and territorial governments can do to protect children’s nutrition and health. The health and cost benefits will be staggering!

WHA 63 Agenda item 11.6

Infant and young child nutrition

The resolution urges governments and the baby foods industries to strengthen their efforts to implement the Global Strategy on Infant and Young Child Feeding, The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Some key provisions:

(2) to strengthen and expedite the sustainable implementation of the Global Strategy for infant and young child feeding including emphasis on giving effect to the aim and principles of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, and the implementation of the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative;

(3) to develop and/or strengthen legislative, regulatory and/or other effective measures to control the marketing of breastmilk substitutes in order to give effect to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and relevant resolution adopted by the World Health Assembly;

(4) to end inappropriate promotion of food for infants and young children and to ensure that nutrition and health claims shall not be permitted for foods for infants and young children, except where specifically provided for, in relevant Codex Alimentarius standards or national legislation;

(5) to develop or review current policy frameworks addressing the double burden of malnutrition and to include in the framework childhood obesity and food security and allocate adequate human and financial resources to ensure their implementation;

WHA 63 Agenda item 11.9

Marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children

Recognizing that unhealthy diets is one of the main risk factors for noncommunicable diseases and that the risks presented by unhealthy diets start in childhood and build up throughout life;

Cognizant of the research that shows that food advertising to children is extensive and other forms of marketing of food to children are widespread across the world;

Recognizing that a significant amount of this marketing is for foods with a high content of fat, sugar or salt and that television advertising influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns;

URGES Member States:

(1) to take all necessary measures to implement the recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, while taking into account existing legislation and policies, as appropriate;

The WHA adopted a set of recommendations for policy development and specific marketing restrictions for governments to implement, enforce and monitor.

RECOMMENDATION 1. The policy aim should be to reduce the impact on children of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt.

RECOMMENDATION 2. Given that the effectiveness of marketing is a function of exposure and power, the overall policy objective should be to reduce both the exposure of children to, and power of, marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt.

RECOMMENDATION 3. To achieve the policy aim and objective, Member States should consider different approaches, i.e. stepwise or comprehensive, to reduce marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt, to children.

RECOMMENDATION 4. Governments should set clear definitions for the key components of the policy, thereby allowing for a standard implementation process. Thesetting of clear definitions would facilitate uniform implementation, irrespective of the implementing body. When setting the key definitions Member States need to identify and address any specific national challenges so as to derive the maximal impact of the policy.

RECOMMENDATION 5. Settings where children gather should be free from all forms of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt. Such settings include, but are not limited to, nurseries, schools, school grounds and pre-school centres, playgrounds, family and child clinics and paediatric services and during any sporting and cultural activities that are held on these premises.

RECOMMENDATION 6. Governments should be the key stakeholders in the development of policy and provide leadership, through a multistakeholder platform, for implementation, monitoring and evaluation. In setting the national policy framework, governments may choose to allocate defined roles to other stakeholders, while protecting the public interest and avoiding conflict of interest.

RECOMMENDATION 7. Considering resources, benefits and burdens of all stakeholders involved, Member States should consider the most effective approach to reduce marketing to children of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt. Any approach selected should be set within a framework developed to achieve the policy objective.

RECOMMENDATION 8. Member States should cooperate to put in place the means necessary to reduce the impact of cross-border marketing (in-flowing and out-flowing) of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt to children in order to achieve the highest possible impact of any national policy.

RECOMMENDATION 9. The policy framework should specify enforcement mechanisms and establish systems for their implementation. In this respect, the framework should include clear definitions of sanctions and could include a system for reporting complaints.

RECOMMENDATION 10. All policy frameworks should include a monitoring system to ensure compliance with the objectives set out in the national policy, using clearly defined indicators.

RECOMMENDATION 11. The policy frameworks should also include a system to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the policy on the overall aim, using clearly defined indicators.

RECOMMENDATION 12. Member States are encouraged to identify existing information on the extent, nature and effects of food marketing to children in their country. They are also encouraged to support further research in this area, especially research focused on implementation and evaluation of policies to reduce the impact on children of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt.

Elisabeth Sterken
Director INFACT Canada
esterken@infactcanada.ca