'Children and obesity: a pan-European project examining the role of food marketing'.
BACKGROUND: Rising levels of obesity in school-age children across Europe are causing increasing concern. The 'Children, Obesity and associated avoidable Chronic Diseases' project sought to examine the effects of promotion within food marketing, given the influential role it plays in children's diets. METHOD: A questionnaire and data-collection protocol was designed for the national co-ordinators, facilitating standardized responses. Co-ordinators collected data from within 20 European Union countries relating to food promotion to children. RESULTS: Results showed that unhealthy foods such as savoury snacks and confectionary were the most commonly marketed and consumed by children across all countries. Television was found to be the prime promotional medium, with in-school and internet marketing seen as growth areas. Media literacy programmes designed specifically to counterbalance the effects of food marketing to children were reported by only a few of the 20 countries. An ineffective and incoherent pattern of regulation was observed across the countries as few governments imposed tough restrictions with most preferring to persuade industry to voluntarily act with responsibly. Most health, consumer and public interest groups supported food marketing restrictions whilst industry and media groups advocated self-regulation. CONCLUSION: Recommendations include the amendment of the European Union's Television Without Frontiers Directive to ban all TV advertising of unhealthy food to children, the adoption of a commonly agreed European Union definition of an 'unhealthy' food, and the establishment of a mechanism for pan-European monitoring of the nature and extent of food marketing to children and its regulation.