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Spanish government to ban advertising aimed at children of unhealthy foods such as chocolate, juices and ice creams

The Consumer Affairs Ministry has announced it will use the strict guidelines set out by the World Health Organization as the basis for what can and can’t be shown to youngsters on TV, radio, internet, social media and apps

A youngster eats a slice of pizza in his home in Madrid.
A youngster eats a slice of pizza in his home in Madrid.Jesús Hellín (Europa Press)

Spain’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs has announced that it will ban advertising for unhealthy foods and drinks that are aimed at children and adolescents via TV, radio, social media, websites, applications, cinemas and newspapers. Products included in the ban range from chocolate and candy, to cookies, desserts, juices and ice creams, among others.

The department will regulate the products that will be allowed to be advertised during times when children are watching these media outlets using the restrictive nutritional profiles of the World Health Organization. The consumer affairs minister, Alberto Garzón, explained on Thursday that the so-called “Paos Code,” which the food industry has used for self-regulation since 2005, has been shown to be “insufficient.” As such, Garzón has opted to use a decree as a tool reduce the “alarming” rates of childhood obesity in Spain. “This is a serious public health problem,” he said on Thursday.

Garzón – who is a member of leftist Unidas Podemos, the junior partner in the Socialist Party-led coalition government – was speaking in Barcelona on Thursday, accompanied by the mayor of the Catalan capital, Ada Colau. He explained that the regulation of such advertising would not, as he had initially planned, be controlled using the “Nutri-Score” system. This traffic-light rating for food and drink is based on nutritional values but has not been without controversy. For example, it gives positive ratings to some highly processed foods, while at the same time awarding a negative score to a product such as olive oil. Instead, the aforementioned WHO standards will be used for the future system.

Consume Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau in the Catalan capital on Thursday.
Consume Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau in the Catalan capital on Thursday.Quique Garcia (EFE)

The regulations, which are due to come into force next year, will affect five categories of products that will not be advertised to minors regardless of their nutritional content. These are candy made with chocolate or sugar, energy bars, sweet toppings and desserts; a group of products including cakes, sweet biscuits or cookies and other baked goods; and then three more categories that include juices, energy drinks and ice creams.

As nutritionist Juan Revenga explained to EL PAÍS via telephone, the WHO published a document in 2015 that set out the acceptable maximum levels of sugar, fat and salt content in products for them to be advertised to children. To do so, foods were divided into 17 categories, with the most unhealthy not to be advertised at all, and the rest permitted provided that a set quantity of sugar, salt or fat per 100 grams was not exceeded.

According to the ministry’s plans, advertising of unhealthy products will be banned all day long on TV channels for children, while they will be restricted on the radio or other TV channels before, after and during time frames when the under-16s will be watching. Social media, applications, the internet and the printed press will not feature advertising aimed at the under-16s.

The government is aiming to combat the issue of childhood obesity with these measures. According to the Aladino 2019 study, which is based on surveys of children aged six to nine, 40.6% of these minors are above their recommended weight, while 23.3% are overweight and 17.3% are obese.

The study, carried out by the Spanish Nutrition and Food Safety Agency (AESAN), shows that the parents of children who are overweight do not consider the issue to be a problem and frequently consider their child’s weight to be normal or just slightly overweight.

“In Spain, one in every three children is overweight or obese,” the Consumer Affairs Ministry stated on Twitter. “Advertising is one of the causes of this figure.”


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