Estonian children see too many unhealthy food and beverage advertisements on TV

The University of Tartu, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), conducted a study to analyse how much Estonian children and adolescents see food advertisements on television. The report found that 69% of food and beverage advertisements should not be shown to children because they encourage poor eating habits and an unhealthy lifestyle. 

In May 2023, all the advertisements shown on TV3, Kanal 2 and Nickelodeon Junior were recorded over four days, with food and beverage advertisements analysed separately. Advertisements were recorded for a total of 12 days. During this period, food and beverage advertisements accounted for 32.7% – the largest share of advertising. 

One of the organisers of the survey, Ele Kiisk, Specialist in Information Management at the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Tartu, explained that all foods and beverages shown in the advertisements were categorised according to the WHO methodology. Then, based on the thresholds of the WHO nutrient profile, it was determined whether the products were suitable for advertising to children. It was found that 69% of these advertisements should not have been shown to children: on average, 10.7 advertisements were shown per hour, of which 7.3 were for products that should not be marketed to children. According to Kiisk, chocolates and sweets (20.3%), various beverages, such as mineral water, coffee, Coca-Cola, nectar and non-alcoholic alcoholic beverages (12.9%), and fresh and frozen meat (10.4%) were shown the most among the food and beverage advertisements. 

Kiisk explained that children and adolescents are an important target group for the food industry, because in addition to being customers, they influence the purchasing decisions of their family and peers. "Children are a vulnerable target group, because their developmental characteristics affect the understanding of advertising messages and allow them to be exploited. Children's exposure to advertisements for unhealthy foods and beverages increases their consumption. The number of overweight adolescents in Estonia has been increasing year by year. According to the 2002 health behaviour survey among Estonian schoolchildren, six percent of students aged 11–15 in Estonia were overweight. However, according to the 2022 survey, every third adolescent was already overweight." 

She added that the four main behavioural risk factors associated with premature death from non-communicable diseases are an unbalanced diet, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity. "Overweight and obesity cause more than 1.2 million deaths per year in the WHO European Region. After high blood pressure, nutritional problems and tobacco use, overweight and obesity are the fourth cause of death," said Kiisk. 

Kadi Reintam, Counselor at the Department of Public Health of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the conducted study showed that neither the code of conduct issued by the Association of Estonian Broadcasters nor self-regulation protect children from food and beverage advertisements that do not support health. "We see that in order to combat the ever-growing problem of obesity, we need to ensure, among other measures, that children are protected from inappropriate advertising," she said. 

The code of conduct issued by the Association of Estonian Broadcasters (AEB) “Responsible advertising regarding food and drink in children’s programmes. Advertising targeted at children.” entered into force in Estonia on 1 January 2023. The purpose of the code of conduct is to contribute to the safeguarding of children’s health and support balanced nutrition. Compliance with the code of conduct is obligatory for AEB members and monitoring is based on self-regulation. 

Read the report on Estonia and the fact sheet (in Estonian) published by the Ministry of Social Affairs. On the basis of the methodology “Monitoring of Marketing of Unhealthy Products to Children and Adolescents – Protocols and Templates” the World Health Organization has organised similar studies also, for instance, in Portugal, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.  

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