An anti obesity charter which will be adopted later this month at the World Health Organization conference in Turkey, calls for curbs on food advertisements targetting children.
The draft WHO charter says: "Special attention needs to be focussed on vulnerable groups such as children and adolescents, whose credulity should not be exploited by commercial activities." It calls for marketing pressure to be toned down, especially when aimed at children.
The rise in childhood obesity in European countries is highest in Britain. It is expected that unless strong measures are taken, the figure will reach one million by 2010. Professor Phil James, chairman of the International Association for the Study of Obesity is of the opinion that restriction of advertisements is important, along with promotion of proper diet and exercise.
All soft drinks should be banned, and sweets reduced, he feels. Also, children should be encouraged to try other healthy options. He criticised the marketing strategy of advertisers, claiming that they sabotaged the attempts of parents to guide their children into a healthy lifestyle. He said the children should not be commercialised in this incessant way which influenced them more strongly than their parents could.
Cathy Moulton, care adviser at Diabetes UK, was concerned about the prospect of increasing numbers of children developing Type 2 diabetes, which used to be seen mostly in adults. Life expectancy will then be affected, so it is important that junk food is banned, she said.
Ofcom, UK's media regulator, has not recommended a total ban while setting out the guidelines, expected later this month. But health groups are insisting on more stringent action against advertisements for unhealthy foods.
Dr Francesco Branca of the WHO said the the industry was for self-regulation, but added: "Early indications are that this may not be sufficient".
European countries have differing policies on this issue.
In Norway and Sweden, there are statutary bans, Ireland and Finland have guidelines, and the advertising and media industries in the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are self regulated.
All TV ads in France for processed foods, or products with added fat, sweeteners or salt carry a mandatory health warning, otherwise the advertiser has to contribute to health campaigns.
The WHO conference is being held in Istanbul on November 15.