Netherlands unplugs junk food TV advertising targeting children and considers new fast-food restaurants ban

15 Dec 2022 — The country’s government argues that self-regulation of television marketing for people under the age of 18 is not working. This has prompted the ministry of health to reveal the Dutch administration’s intention to implement restrictions on business marketing and to announce the expansion of the country’s public campaign to combat obesity.

At the same time, the UK is delaying its implementation of a junk food advertising ban after 9 PM to October 2025. Rishi Sunak’s administration will go further than Liz Truss’s, who intended to delay the ban until 2024 – before she resigned. Previously Boris Johnson committed to implementing the same measures by 2023.

As the UK sets back its efforts to combat obesity through public intervention, other European leaders in Italy and Sweden have rejected taxes on unhealthy foods amid historically high inflation levels that are crippling the purchasing power of the low and middle-classes. 

Remote restrictions reasoning
The Dutch government will be restricting the freedom of some companies to promote their products to children. Individual towns may also be given  the power to restrict the opening of unhealthy restaurants.

“People should be able to decide for themselves what they eat and drink and we should keep it that way. But that free choice is under enormous pressure from marketing and an ever-growing range of fast food all around us,” says Dutch Secretary of Health, Welfare and sport, Van Ooijen.

Haarlem, Netherlands, became the first town in the world to ban meat ads to discourage meat consumption.“On the way to school and work and on social media, you are constantly tempted to make unhealthy choices. As a cabinet, we want to counterbalance this with the legal restriction of children’s marketing and municipal powers to bar new fast-food establishments. So that people get a helping hand to choose what they eat and drink for themselves. I hope, of course, that people will make the healthy choice more often.”

The Dutch government explains that one in six children is overweight, with some poor districts doubling that rate (one in three). 

“A child suffers from that for the rest of his life. Overweight children produce more fat cells, which means that they are more likely to remain overweight as adults. In addition, half of adults are overweight. Being overweight increases the risk of all kinds of (chronic) diseases such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer,” explains the health ministry.

Fighting obesity from the early stage is a science-backed approach, as children who have obesity are more likely to remain obese, according to a study by SWEET that investigated the long-term benefits and risks of dietary sweeteners in the UK. 

Meanwhile, in other authority moves to regulate citizen diets, Haarlem, Netherlands, became the first town in the world to ban meat ads to discourage meat consumption. 

Tackling school meals
The Dutch government additionally plans to expand its investment in healthy school canteens with more nutritious offerings. 

Meanwhile, Biden’s administration revealed recently that school meals are a priority in its Hunger, Nutrition and Health National Strategy. For the past two years, free breakfast and lunch have been provided to all school children across the US – a policy that ended in August 2022. However, the US Congress has not added to the agenda any plans to renew the program just yet.

Moreover, free school meals have shown long-term health benefits, as when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, child obesity accelerated.

By Marc Cervera

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