Diet Platform: To brand or not to brand | May 2015
On the 5th of May, DG SANCO held one of the meetings of the EU Platform for action on diet, physical activity and health in Milan, home to the World Expo of 2015.
The Platform's meetings provide the opportunity for of its members to present their commitments that contribute to tackling childhood obesity. Unfortunately, every so often, some initiatives are widely criticized by civil society organisations within the Platform for different reasons. One such reason is the presence of branded material.
The "Thao" project where children are given information abouthealthy diets with Nutella, a soda can and a Nestlé chocolate bar and bottledwater on their plates (and a green apple too...)
Why is the presence of the brand's name or the brand'sproducts so controversial?
The commitments submitted and carried out as part ofthe effort of the EU Platform for action on diet, physical activity and healthare an extension of public policy, similar to co-regulation and self-regulation, but companies mistakenly often mix them up with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Corporate Social Responsibility is defined by the EU Commission as "the responsibility of enterprises for their impacts onsociety". This is a very broad definition which leaves much room for interpretation. While some believe CSR should be akin to charity or philanthropy which should therefore be unrelated to a companies' private interests, others advocate for CSR as an integral part of a company's marketing strategy, contributing to building a positive image for the company - brand building - and increasing consumer trust in the brand. Unsurprisingly,the "official" discourse of companies for the use of branding is one of "accountability and transparency", making sure that the "target audience" knows who is behind the activity/initiative and is properly "informed" - sweeping aside the inevitable side effect of brand building (intentional or not).
The "Healthy Kids" project, part of the EPODE network, displays the "Nestlé" brand name on a large number of material displayed during its activities with children and parents.
While such an interpretation of CSR is already controversial, the use of branding in a company's initiative that is an integral part of a wider public policy objective and under the supervision of a public institution is utterly unacceptable!
It is pushing cynicism of companies to the extreme,promoting health messages to children on the one hand and on the other, building a positive image for their company in the eyes of children, parents, teachers (and by extension for their products). Any potential "positive" effect of such an initiative is cancelled out by the display of the brand's name, which contributes to securing market shares of existing and future customers for their products. The cherry on the (sugar and fat packed) cake is that unhealthy diets, which include some of the products of these companies, are one of the main causes of obesity!
COFACE urges the EU Commission take a strong stance against these commonly spread practices and put an end to it. The EU Platform for action on diet, physical activity and health is an integral part of public policy and allowing companies touse their brands inside their initiatives is nothing less than collusion between private and public interests.
News on unhealthy food to children
| February 2015
On Februay 19, the WHO publisheda tool to help countries reduce marketing of foods with too much fat, sugar andsalt to children.
This document was published following therecommendations of the ViennaDeclaration (July 2013) regarding advertising and marketing of foods highin energy, saturated fats, trans fatty acids, free sugars or salt. It includes a nutrient profile modeldeveloped by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, which restricts the marketingof certain foods based on nutrient profiles.The model was derived from two existing models developed respectively bythe Norwegian government and the Danish Forum of Responsible Food MarketingCommunication (endorsed by the Danish government).
The WHO nutrient profile model consists of a total of17 food categories with international customs tariff codes helping with theirclassification. Nutrients covered by themodel include: total fat, saturated fat, total sugars, added sugars, non-sugarsweeteners, salt and energy.
The table provided either prohibits advertising and marketing, sets athreshold under which advertising and marketing is permitted or permitsmarketing for all products of that category.For instance, for all products falling under the category of "chocolateand sugar confectionery, energy bars, and sweet toppings and desserts”marketing is prohibited.
COFACE has been concerned about the role marketing can play in nutritionalhabits of children. It has developed a tool called "Nutri-médias" for trainersand parents to help them understand and be critical of the marketing practicestheir children are exposed to, encouraging them to develop the criticalthinking of their children regarding advertising.
COFACE very much supports the idea ofrestricting advertising based on the WHO nutrient profile model and hopes itwill be recommended by the EU Institutions and used proactively by MemberStates.
For more information about the WHO’s nutrient profile model, see theofficial WHO website here
COFACE position on EU air quality policy: Worried parents demand clean air for their children - June 2014. Read more
As a member of the European Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
, COFACE is duty bound to take a stand on health, nutrition and obesity issues. The family is a key learning environment, and early childhood is when habits are learned that are apt to become entrenched. It is also useful to develop a culinary education within the family.
The platform creates a forum for actors at European level who can commit their membership to engage in concrete actions designed to contain or reverse current trends to overweight and obesity.
In 2008 COFACE hosted a seminar on nutrition in Sofia to give member associations an awareness of the importance of the issue and the need for urgent action by raising awareness among families. The seminar Nutrition: a family matter
was a commitment given by COFACE through its membership of the Platform.
In 2009 COFACE hosted a seminar on Health Determinants
. The aim was to focus on lesser-known health determinants like well-being, stress, and personal empowerment to point up the importance of a much more educational approach to tackling health problems rather than the traditional "authoritarian” method of lecturing people about healthy lifestyles (diet and exercise).
Published on 21 Nov 2008
Updated on 29 May 2015