Concerned about increasing obesity rates among children, the World Health Organization outlined new recommendations for the marketing of certain foods, including a ban on marketing sugar-sweetened beverages and high-sodium foods at playgrounds and schools.

At the WHO’s annual meeting, the ministers agreed to adopt the recommendations, which will serve as guidelines for the 193 member states. The recommendations are intended to “promote responsible marketing . . . of foods and nonalcoholic beverages to children, in order to reduce the impact of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt, in dialogue with all relevant stakeholders, including private-sector parties, while ensuring avoidance of potential conflict of interest.”

Specifically, the recommendations include a ban on the marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt at “settings where children gather,” including nurseries, schools and school grounds, preschool centers, playgrounds, family and child clinics, pediatrics services, and during any sporting or cultural activities held on such premises. Member states are also urged to “consider the most effective approach to reduce marketing to children” of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt.

The WHO recommendations also encourage member states to put in place a monitoring system to evaluate the effectiveness of its policy, include a system for sanctions and reporting complaints, to create an enforcement mechanism, and to conduct further research in the area, focused on reducing the impact on children of marketing such foods. And the WHO emphasized that although television remains an important advertising medium, the recommendations should apply to all forms of marketing, including the use of brand mascots or popular characters, Web sites, point-of-purchase displays, e-mails and text messages, viral marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, and other forms of social media.

To read the WHO’s recommendations on the marketing of food and nonalcoholic beverages to children, click here.

Why it matters: U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin endorsed the plan. “The set of recommendations on marketing of food and nonalcoholic beverages to children should play a significant role in helping member states promote healthier patterns of eating as part of efforts to reduce the growing epidemic of childhood obesity,” she said in a speech. The WHO noted that its recommendations could be implemented in a variety of formats, from statutory regulation to industry self-regulation. Some form of action by the U.S. government is possible between the support of the Surgeon General and the fact that the Obama Administration has tackled childhood obesity as an important issue. Earlier this month a Task Force created by the White House issued a plan for reducing childhood obesity that included similar recommendations to limit the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.