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Estonian children see too many unhealthy food and drink advertisements on television

01.03.2024 | 15:14

The University of Tartu conducted a study with the World Health Organization, which analyzed how much Estonian children and young people see food advertisements on television. The completed report showed that 69 percent of food and drink advertisements should not be seen by children because they encourage wrong eating habits and unhealthy lifestyles.

During the research, in May 2023, all advertisements shown on TV3, Kanal 2 and Nickelodeon Junior were recorded separately for four days, food and beverage advertisements were analyzed separately. Ads were recorded for a total of 12 days. During this period, food and beverage advertisements were shown the most, 32.7 percent to be exact. All displayed foods and beverages were categorized based on the World Health Organization (WHO) methodology.

Ele Kiisk, an information management specialist at the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health of the University of Tartu, one of the study leaders, explained that all the foods and drinks shown in the advertisements were categorized based on the WHO methodology, and based on the thresholds of the WHO nutrient profile, it was decided whether the products were suitable for advertising to children. It found that 69 percent of food and drink ads should not have been shown to children. On average, 10.7 ads were shown per hour, of which 7.3 were for products that should not be marketed to children.

According to Kiisk, chocolates and sweets (20.3 percent), various beverages such as mineral water, coffee, Coca-Cola, nectar and non-alcoholic alcoholic beverages (12.9 percent) and fresh and frozen meat (10.4 percent) were shown the most among food and beverage advertisements.

Ele Kiisk said that children and young people are an important target group for the food industry, because in addition to being customers, they influence the purchasing decisions of their family and peers. "Children are a vulnerable target group, because their developmental characteristics affect the understanding of advertising messages and allow them to be exploited. Children's exposure to advertisements for unhealthy foods and beverages increases their consumption. The number of overweight young people in Estonia has been increasing year by year. According to the 2002 health behavior survey of Estonian schoolchildren, six percent of students aged 11–15 in Estonia were overweight. However, according to the 2022 study, every third adolescent was already overweight."

She added that the four main behavioral risk factors associated with premature death from non-communicable diseases are an unbalanced diet, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity. "Overweight and obesity cause more than 1.2 million deaths per year in the WHO European Region. After high blood pressure, nutritional risks and tobacco use, overweight and obesity are the fourth cause of death," said Kiisk.

Kadi Reintam, adviser to the Department of Public Health of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the conducted study showed that the Estonian Broadcasting Union's code of conduct and self-regulation do not protect children from food and drink advertisements that do not support health. "We see that in order to combat the ever-growing problem of obesity, we need to ensure, among other measures, that children are protected from inappropriate advertising," she said.

The code of conduct of the Estonian Broadcasting Union "Responsible food and drink advertising policy in children's programs" entered into force in Estonia on January 1, 2023. Advertising aimed at children." The aim of the guide is to contribute to the protection of children's health and support a balanced diet. The requirements are mandatory for all ERL members, and supervision works on the principles of self-regulation.

Hendrik Jaanre