In May 2010, the 63rd World Health Assembly unanimously adopted WHO recommendations urging Member States to reduce the impact on children of the marketing of unhealthy food. However, despite consistent evidence that unhealthy food marketing is associated with childhood obesity and the repeated commitments of Member States to halt the rise of childhood obesity by 2025, the WHO Recommendations have been poorly implemented.

Childhood obesity rates have been growing in the EU, and have been accompanied by significant socio-economic costs and increased health inequalities. Ten years after the EU adopted a White Paper laying down A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues. European Journal of Risk Regulation recently published a Special Issue on the Implementation in Europe of the WHO Recommendations on Food Marketing to Children. This Special Issue proposes to reflect on the state of implementation of the WHO Recommendations at national and regional levels. Its publication is all the more timely as it comes exactly one year after the World Health Assembly welcomed the final report of the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, which specifically noted the importance for States of implementing the WHO Recommendations as part of effective obesity prevention strategies. The EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014-2020 is undergoing a mid-term review, whilst Directive 2010/13 on audiovisual media services is being revised.

After a brief contribution introducing the WHO Recommendations (Garde and Xuereb), this Special Issue reflects on: 1) the evidence linking unhealthy food marketing to childhood obesity (Boyland and Tatlow-Golden); 2) the extent to which the food and advertising industries should be entrusted with the adoption of self-regulatory standards (Garde, Jeffery and Rigby); and 3) the extent to which the EU should, as a supranational legal order, regulate unhealthy food marketing to children (Bartlett and Garde). The Special Issue then focuses on five country case studies: the United Kingdom (Garde, Davies and Landon); Denmark and Sweden (O’Cathaoir); France (Friant-Perrot, Garde and Chansay); and Norway (Vaale-Hallberg and Bjøralt-Roald). It concludes with a reflection on how children’s rights could provide a useful tool to support the implementation of the WHO Recommendations in the EU, arguing that the EU’s and its Member States’ failure to effectively restrict unhealthy food marketing to children infringes the child’s right to the highest attainable standard of health and other related rights (Garde, Byrne, Gokani and Murphy).

by Professor Amandine Garde, University of Liverpool

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