The International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) has released a report criticizing the food and beverage industry’s efforts to reduce marketing to children in the European Union. Part of the StanMark Project, which receives EU funding, A Junk-Free Childhood 2012 focuses on the EU Pledge signed by 20 companies that agreed to stop marketing products to children younger than age 12 and to submit to independent monitoring. Citing data from the 2011 EU Pledge Monitoring Report, IASO notes a “disappointing” 29 percent decline in the number of advertisements for “non-compliant” products that were viewed by children between January and March 2011 as compared to those viewed between January and March 2005. “While for some countries there were significant decreases in advertising (e.g. in Poland, Ireland and France), in other countries significant increases were recorded, including Slovenia (up 26%) and the Netherlands (up 38%),” states the report.

“The problem is made worse because the companies are allowed to set their own standards for what they consider ‘junk food’ and they set the bar too low,” said the report’s author, Tim Lobstein. “Our report found over 30 fatty and sugary foods which are classified as unhealthy in government‐approved schemes across Europe and the USA but which are considered healthy by the manufacturers and which they allow themselves to advertise.”

A Junk-Free Childhood 2012 also voices concerns about supposed gaps in self-regulation, including company-owned Websites, social media sites, the use of licensed characters, sports sponsorships, and child-to-child marketing. To address these issues, the StanMark Project ultimately aims to propose universal standards that take “a ‘risk-based’ approach to reducing exposure to the marketing of food and beverage products whose regular consumption is liable to increase the risk of noncommunicable diseases.” These standards would seek to ensure that (i) foods and beverages marketed to children meet international dietary standards established by the World Health Organization; (ii) products are promoted “only to those persons who have reached an age when they are legally considered to be competent enough to protect their own welfare”; (iii) regulation applies to “all media that carries marketing messages as well as those that cross national borders”; (iv) marketing techniques with special appeal to children are excluded; (v) brands “with recognizable links to food and beverage products” are treated as if they were promotions; (vi) all settings where children gather are free from advertising; and (vii) all parties are held accountable for the dissemination of marketing messages. See IASO Press Release, September 27, 2012.