How to counter harmful commercial marketing towards children and young people across risk factors for noncommunicable diseases.
NVD Alliance; Policy Report , October 2023
Unregulated commercial marketing threatens the health and well-being of our societies by altering
environments and encouraging the consumption of unhealthy products associated with prevalent
noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – including ultra-processed and/or high in fat, sugar or salt
(HFSS) foods, alcohol and tobacco products, breastmilk substitutes (BMS) and gambling services.
Children and young people’s physical and mental health and well-being is affected immediately and
over the course of their lives through habit formation and lasting harm, threatening the achievement
of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Globally, NCD prevalence is rising among children and young people, requiring much stronger and more comprehensive policy action to combat the targeting and exposure of these population groups to the harmful commercial marketing of NCD risk factors. National policymakers have an obligation to guarantee children and young people’s human rights to health, accurate information,
privacy and data protection, and freedom from exploitation, as codified in the United Nations (UN) Declaration of Human Rights, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and other international treaties and conventions.
Commercial entities spend billions of dollars annually to target children and young people with marketing for unhealthy products and services, including in child-specific environments like schools, youth sports teams, and through youth-oriented apps, games and websites. Children and young people are also exposed to harmful marketing outside of child-specific environments, in their general environment. Across industries and platforms, marketers use sophisticated tactics and strategies to appeal to children specifically, enticing them to purchase, consume or use products for life.
There has been an enduring and dangerous marriage between child psychology and marketing theory to target children as consumers, using tactics designed to target children from a young age and keep them hooked as users for life. It is well evidenced that unhealthy commodity industries prey on low-income and minority children across geographies, and specifically target populations in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), through aggressive marketing that exploits existing vulnerabilities.
National policymakers face significant barriers to developing, implementing and enforcing marketing regulations to combat these tactics, despite the known inadequacy of industry self-regulation. Policymakers report a lack of useful data to understand and describe the problem and therefore design adequate solutions, with a concurrent lack of political support, public awareness and buy-in on the importance of the issue.