Deborah Chen | Role of marketing unhealthy foods to children

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With all the increased coverage surrounding the recent announcement of Health Minister Christopher Tufton’s key health initiatives for 2022-23, including highlights around policy reforms to curb the skyrocketing rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), why not shed some light on another issue that has been plaguing Jamaica for quite some time? The marketing of unhealthy foods targeting children globally and locally, which has grown drastically over the years. Every day, children are exposed to and enticed by enthralling food- marketing ads where they live learn and play – on TV, at school, in stores, on mobile devices, and online.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other major health organisations worldwide point to pervasive unhealthy food marketing as a significant risk factor for childhood obesity. Food marketing that targets children can have lifelong consequences, including contributing to the already exacerbated overweight and obesity trends. The latest Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey 2016-2017 shows that more than half of the Jamaican population (54 per cent) is overweight or obese. Even worse is that a comparison between the 2010 and the 2017 Global School-based Student Health Surveys shows an alarming increase in the figures for boys and girls aged 13-15 by 68 per cent. One can only imagine what the statistics will reflect proceeding the COVID-19 era, where we have witnessed the snowballing of food marketing since much of our learning environment has transitioned to the virtual world.

PROTECT CHILDREN’S HEALTH AND RIGHTS With the upsurge in the rates of overweight and obesity in our children, what better do we expect to come, with the multiplicity of tantalising ads plastered across our television screens, newspapers, social media platforms, and on signs, posters, and billboards in and around our schools? It is imperative that we acknowledge that our children are extremely vulnerable to food marketing and the tactics employed to lure them. Most of this marketing is of ultra-processed products and fast foods with a high content of saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugar or salt/sodium. These ads are highly impressionable and can strongly influence children’s eating patterns by increasing their current and future food consumption.

Research has shown that consumption of these foods is highly addictive, making it harder to curb unhealthy eating habits. After all, this highlights the need for comprehensive marketing restrictions!

Protecting Jamaican children and adolescents from unhealthy food marketing is a most cost-effective way to improve their chances of living longer, healthier lives while simultaneously reducing the soaring healthcare costs associated with NCDs. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states our children’s fundamental right to a healthy childhood, free from economic exploitation. Article 24, Section 2(c) states: «To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia , the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water, taking into consideration the dangers and risks of environmental pollution.»

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LINK ORIGINAL: Jamaica Gleaner