The World Health Organisation has suggested that a complete ban on advertising junk food to children is preferable to more limited controls such as those used in New Zealand.

A paper to be considered this month in Switzerland by the WHO’s executive board, on which New Zealand holds a seat, recommends the aim should be to reduce the marketing to children of foods high in bad fats, sugar or salt. It notes that countries can adopt a “comprehensive approach” which fully eliminates all marketing of unhealthy food and drink to children, including the newer channels like websites, emails and text messages – or they can take smaller steps.

“A comprehensive approach has the highest potential to achieve the desired impact,” the paper says.

Auckland University Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole, a former director of the WHO’s department of chronic diseases and health promotion, says the time has come to impose a complete ban. He said New Zealand’s system of self-regulation of food marketing by the food and advertising industries did too little to protect children from the risks of becoming obese.

Nearly a third of children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. But the Association of New Zealand Advertisers’ executive director, Jeremy Irwin, said yesterday that self-regulation – under codes overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority – was working well and no further regulation was required. The codes on advertising food and advertising to children were being reviewed and an additional code, on advertising food to children, which would cover concerns about foods high in fat, sugar or salt, was about to be released, he said.

Television stations in 2008 agreed to make food advertising during school-aged children’s programming times reflect the Government’s Healthy Eating-Healthy Action policies. Advertising during pre-school programming times is not permitted.

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