The marketing of unhealthy food to children in Europe

April 28th 2005


Increasing obesity, especially in children, is being noted with mounting concern throughout Europe. The International Obesity Task Force estimates that approximately 20% of school-age children in Europe are carrying excess body fat, with an increased risk of developing chronic disease. Of these overweight children, a quarter are obese, with a significant likelihood that some will have multiple risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and other co-morbidities before or during early adulthood.

The “Children, obesity and associated avoidable chronic diseases” project involves national heart foundations in 20 different European countries (national coordinators) together with three other partner organisations (the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group, the International Association of Consumer Food Organisations and the International Diabetes Federation - European Region) . The project is coordinated by the European Heart Network, and part-funded by the European Commission. The national coordinators have collected the bulk of the information for this report.

The project is taking place in three phases. Phase 1 involves mapping the policy terrain; Phase 2 will disseminate the findings of Phase 1; and Phase 3 will encourage organisations to develop a pan-European programme of action to address childhood obesity.

This report - covering Phase 1 of the project - focuses on the marketing of food to children, but it is acknowledged that changes to the way foods are marketed and otherwise promoted to children are only one way in which overweight and obesity in childhood needs to be tackled. Obesity in childhood is caused both by the over-consumption of certain foods and by insufficient physical activity, so efforts need to be made both to improve children’s diets and to raise their levels of physical activity. The promotion of healthier eating in childhood will involve a range of measures in a variety of settings, not just changing the ways foods are marketed to children. These measures will be considered in the later phases of this project.

Here you will find the full version of this report and a summary version.