German minister calls for ban on advertising junk food to children

BARLIN (Agencies): Germany’s agriculture minister has called for a ban on all advertising accessible by children of unhealthy food including sweets and items with a high salt, fat and sugar content, arguing that the future health of Germany’s young people is at stake.

Cem Özdemir, of the Greens, said it was time to protect children from the effects of unhealthy food including obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.

Some consumer groups said the proposals should go far further and include banning the strategic placement of confectionery – so-called “Quengelware” or “moaning goods” – at supermarket cash desks where parents often feel pressured by children to buy them. Sweets and gums are often even placed close to alcohol miniatures such as schnapps and the digestif Jägermeister.

An estimated one in two Germans is considered overweight, as are 15% of children, according to health professionals.

“We must ensure that children can grow up more healthily,” Özdemir said, adding that calls on industry to regulate itself had failed.

According to his plans, junk food advertising “in every medium relevant to children” including television, radio and YouTube and Instagram, should be reduced. In future such advertising should only be broadcast between 11pm and 6am, he said.

He stressed he was not in favour of a complete advertising ban, but said: “Advertising should no longer be directed at children.”

Print advertising in children’s magazines as well as billboard advertising in the vicinity of schools and leisure centres for sweets and confectionery should be banned. Özdemir said his definition of unhealthy food was based on the guidelines of the World Health Organization.

He said he would seek cross-party support for the initiative, but expected resistance.

Özdemir’s plan is in keeping with the pre-election promise set out in the coalition agreement of the three-way government of the Social Democrats, the Greens and pro-business FDP, in which it was stated: “Child-focused advertising of foodstuffs containing high sugar fat and salt content should in future not be allowed in broadcasting and other formats directed at children under the age of 14.”

Support and praise for the proposal came from consumer rights groups, the World Wildlife Fund and the German Obesity Society which said Özdemir had “delivered a big hit”. It said that obesity was a “key health problem” for children and said the advertising of unhealthy foods was an important contributory factor.

The German Society for Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (DGKJ) said it was behind the proposal. Its vice-president, Ursula Felderhoff-Müser, told German media that doctors and scientific associations as well as consumer protection groups had been calling for tighter regulation for years insisting that the efficacy of advertising directed at children was well documented.

The FDP and CDU were critical of the plans, while some within the ruling SPD also raised concerns.

Gero Hocker, agricultural spokesperson for the FDP said Özdemir would find no majority within the ruling coalition. He accused him of “trying to turn children unable to make decisions for themselves into citizens unable to do so”.

The CDU’s Steffen Bilger criticised Özdemir for, he said, “trying to smooth the way for dirigisme, bureaucracy and paternalism”.

The leader of the SPD, Saskia Esken, said that while advertising should not be allowed to mislead, ultimately it was about decisions taken in the home that made more of a difference. “I believe that it’s still up to the parents to protect children from unhealthy foods.”