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Marketing and Comms
Predatory Marketing Tactics a Top Threat to Children’s Wellbeing

While climate change and intensifying carbon emissions still top the list of factors endangering a healthy future for the world’s children, a new report finds that marketing of harmful products aimed at children is another major threat to their wellbeing.

A new report released Wednesday by a commission of over 40 child and adolescent health experts from around the world — convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and The Lancet — finds that no country in the world currently offers children both the chance of a healthy upbringing and a sustainable environment. 

A Future for the World’s Children? finds that the health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat — not only from the intensifying climate crisis and environmental degradation; but also from TV commercials pushing unhealthy and harmful products such as heavily processed food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco.

“We found that inequities, marketing and climate change are the three biggest [factors] that affect children today, and the future of humanity,” Dr. Stefan Peterson, Chief of Health at UNICEF and an independent author of the report, said in an interview with PRI’s “The World” on Wednesday. “The commercials affect children on a different time scale — they affect how they eat, how they dress … Climate change is obviously already hurting vulnerable children today around the world … but both need to be tackled resolutely.”

Along with the current and imminent threats posed by climate change and ecological degradation, the report also highlights the distinct threat posed to children from harmful marketing. Evidence suggests that children in some countries see as many as 30,000 TV ads alone in a single year, while youth exposure to vaping ads increased by more than 250 percent in the US over two years, reaching more than 24 million young people. 

And despite attempts to counter commercial marketing of junk food and sugary beverages with campaigns from Michelle Obama, FNV and even McDonald’s promoting fruits, veggies and other healthy choices in the past few years, children’s continued exposure to predatory marketing is linked with their purchase of unhealthy foods; and therefore, to the alarming rise in childhood obesity — the number of obese children and adolescents increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016, an 11-fold increase.

To protect children, the Commission authors call for a new global movement driven by and for children. Specific recommendations include an urgent halt to CO2 emissions, placing children and adolescents at the center of sustainable development efforts and tightening national regulation of harmful commercial marketing.

To the last point: In a recent post, “Mr. Goodvertising,” Thomas Kolster, urged the creative community to take a queue from the growing Brands for Good movement and adopt a more conscious approach to advertising and actively shift away from selling people what they don’t need — not only for the longevity of their brand clients, but the health and longevity of society itself:

“When you do that next ad, think about if your children or your loved ones would be proud to read your name on it! I believe, naively maybe, that if we feed people’s brains with wholesome, nutrient-rich communication calories; we will see healthier people, healthier communities and healthier, longer-living brands.”

Dmitry Fedorov, UNICEF Representative for Work of Goodwill Ambassadors, commented in response to the report: "It's crucial that the overriding concern of the report is promoted by all kinds of social influencers, including UNICEF supporters, since a lack of action in this regard is one of the issues to be solved."

Read more findings from A Future for the World’s Children?