UN calls for ban on junk food ads in schools

Two UN human rights experts have called upon schools to ban advertising, promotion and sponsorship of unhealthy foods in schools.

The calls – made by Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, and Dainius Püras, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health – marked International Youth Day, which is being celebrated today.

“Such commercial messages have the potential to shape children’s long-term consumer and financial behaviour, and they are growing in number and reach,” they said.

“We call upon States to ban advertising, promotion and sponsorship by manufacturers of alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy foods in schools and in the context of children’s sporting events and other events that could be attended by children.”

They went on to urge the creation of guidelines that either restrict or minimize the impact of the marketing of unhealthy foods, alcohol and tobacco in general.

“More broadly, we urge States to regulate advertising directed at children, in conformity with the duty of States to protect children from material injurious to their well-being,” they said.

The UN human rights experts warned that child-directed advertisements may cause unhealthy consumer behaviour that becomes ingrained at an early age.

For example, children may over consume unhealthy foods that cause severe health consequences; they may also pressure their parents to purchase items that are neither budgeted nor educationally necessary, hence, making family private debt a serious problem.

Moreover, according to a recent UNICEF International Youth Day report, children do not become happier by just acquiring more and more goods.

Many countries therefore have prohibited television advertising at certain hours or in connection with children’s programmes. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has also recommended that settings where children gather should be free from all forms of marketing of unhealthy foods.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Facing a global epidemic in childhood obesity with the number of overweight children under five on track to jump from 42 million to 70 million over the next decade, a United Nations report today called on governments to reverse the trend by promoting healthy foods and physical activity.