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WHO Europe has published a long-awaited Nutrient Profile Tool to help governments to classify food and drinks based on fat (saturated and trans), salt and added sugar content. The tool provides a clear scientific basis to define products with a high fat, sugar and/or salt content (HFSS) for which marketing to children should be restricted to protect health.

WHO Regional Office for Europe nutrient profile model (2015)

Despite progress in some countries of the WHO European region, children are still regularly exposed to advertising and marketing of foods and drinks high in calories, saturated fat, transfatty acids, added sugars or salt. Research suggests that brand recognition starts in early childhood, having a negative impact on children’s diets and health outcomes.

To date, four European countries use nutrient profiling to support marketing restrictions: UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway. The majority of governments have not taken sufficient action to identify unhealthy products and follow up with appropriate policies.

WHO Europe’s model categorises food and drinks into 17 groups, ranging from zero restrictions on marketing for fresh and frozen fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and eggs, to recommending total bans on marketing targeting children for confectionery, cakes and biscuits, energy drinks, some fruit juices, ice creams and sorbets. It recommends stricter upper limits for fats, added sugar and salt, as well as a maximum calorie limit for ready meals and convenience foods marketed to children.

Countries will be able to use the WHO model as it is, or adapt it to their circumstances. It will provide a clear basis to develop and implement policies to restrict marketing of HFSS food and drinks to children in two ways: (1) to identify foods not to be marketed to children; or (2) to monitor the extent and nature of food marketing.