Written by on March 16, 2019

Do you know what your children are watching online?

Now experts not only warn about violent and sexual web content, but also about companies trying to boost the sale of unhealthy products by targeting children by means of marketing on diverse social media platforms.

A new report from WHO calls for greater monitoring of the digital marketing of unhealthy products, and the experts are especially concerned about alcohol, tobacco and some food products, especially those high in salt, sugar and fat.

And it is far from the first time WHO warns about the impact of unhealthy marketing.

“The overriding concern is that nearly a decade after introducing the 2010 WHO recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, exposure of children to the online marketing of unhealthy food products, tobacco and alcohol remains commonplace,” said Dr João Breda, Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.

According to WHO, the advertising industry deliberately tries to target children and adolescents on social media and on difficult-to-track mobile devices.

The WHO finds it critical to monitor the online advertising of unhealthy products to children, as noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, obesity and chronic respiratory disease are linked to smoking, alcohol abuse and the consumption of unhealthy food products, according to experts.

“The onset of these diseases can be slowed or prevented if major risk factors and behaviours are addressed during childhood,” said WHO in a statement.

The new report “Monitoring and restricting the digital marketing of unhealthy products to children and adolescents” points out that children’s time spent online, including on social media, has steadily grown, and this development further increases the exposure to digital marketing.

The report calls for developing and implementing a set of tools for monitoring the exposure of children to digital marketing.

One of the tools suggested to map the exposure could include a panel of children using a smartphone application that monitors and aggregates data on children’s interaction with advertisements in some websites and social media.

WHO also hopes to develop partnerships with young people, parents, policy-makers and members of civil society who together can advocate for change, raise awareness and influence policy.

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