European health ministers have voiced their criticism on the current efforts to tackle childhood obesity and advertising junk food to children, especially online and through social media.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) published on 16 June a draft conclusion of its review of the EU’s current contributions towards halting the rise in childhood overweight and obesity.

In the draft, the council noted that “the causes of childhood overweight and obesity are complex and multi-factorial”, yet there was “ample evidence to justify more effective actions on marketing of foods which are high in energy, saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugar and salt”.

“Experience and evidence point to the fact that voluntary action may require regulatory measures in order to be more effective,” the council said, criticising the self-regulatory approach to health policing.

It stated that existing policies had not been sufficiently effective, which had led to childhood obesity to becoming a major health challenge with it also being a strong indicator of adult obesity, as over 60% of overweight children were likely to become overweight adults.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) as quoted by Food Navigator on 16 June, every one in three adolescents in Europe was overweight or obese.

To tackle the issue, EPSCO called on EU member states and the European Commission (EC) to label foods in order to help consumers choose healthy options and promote education and information campaigns aimed at improving consumers understanding of food information, including nutritional labelling.

The council’s conclusions placed particular weight on advertising, and it called on the member states to increase efforts to reduce the “overall amount and persuasive power” of food marketing targeted at children and adolescents which run counter to encouraging healthy lifestyles.

In this, member states should pay attention especially on “the new challenge of marketing and advertising via online platforms and social media”, where EPSCO said messages were more targeted at individuals and also more difficult to monitor.