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Article Norway: Tightening of Restrictions on Unhealthy Food Ads Aimed at Youth

(Aug. 29, 2013) It was reported on July 2, 2013, that the marketing of unhealthy food and drink to young people under the age of 16 might become illegal in Norway. (Julie Ryland, Bans Unhealthy Food Ads Directed at Children, THE NORWAY POST (July 2, 2013).) Initially, in 2012, the Ministry of Health and Care Services (hereinafter MHCS) had proposed tightening the regulations to cover persons under 18, but the food and beverage industry’s concern that such a restriction would effectively result in a complete ban of its sales to the young led to the compromise age limit of 16, with the industry to strengthen its self-regulation of marketing to persons under 16. The informal ban applies only to marketing to that group and not to production, placement, or store display of products, according to the State Secretary (deputy minister) of the Ministry, Nina Tangnæs Grønvold. (Id.; Informal Translation of the Norwegian Proposed Regulations to Restrict Marketing of Food and Beverages to Children. DRAFT June 18 2012, International Association for the Study of Obesity website [with an appendix on the offending foods and beverages]. )

In a letter it issued on June 16, 2013, the Ministry had invited the Norwegian food industry to develop proposals for a self-regulation scheme, after having issued for consultation, in the summer of 2012, draft regulations proposing the ban on the marketing of the most unhealthy food and beverages for youth under 18. In the spring of 2013, the Ministry also put forward for consultation amended draft regulations on the proposed ban and circulated them on May 16. (Regulering av markedsføring av usunn mat og drikke rettet mot barn og unge, Brev No. 13/571-5 [Regulation of Marketing of Unhealthy Food and Drink to Children and Young People, Letter No. 13/547-5, hereinafter Letter] (June 6, 2013), MHCS website; Press Release, No. 19/2013, Barn og Unge Skal Beskyttes mot Markedsføring av Usunn Mat og Drikke [Children and Young People Should Be Protected Against Marketing of Unhealthy Food and Drink] (June 5, 2013).)

The 2013 Draft Regulations

The 2013 Draft Regulations were formulated in conformity with Act No. 124 of December 19, 2003, on food production and safety; Royal Decree No. 1790 of December 19, 2003; Royal Decree No. 93 of January 16, 2004; and Act No. 101 of December 17, 2004, on European Notification of Technical Regulations (EEA Consultation Act). (Forskrift om markedsføring av mat og drikke rettet mot barn[Regulations on the Marketing of Food and Drink to Children, hereinafter Draft Regulations], EFTA Surveillance Authority website (last visited Aug. 28, 2013).) The Draft Regulations deems as unhealthy any high-energy, salty, sweet, or nutrient-poor food or drink; the items are set forth in an appendix to the regulations. (Id. § 3 ¶ 1(b); Vedlegg 1 til forskriftsutkastet: Næringsmidler som anses som usunn mat ogdrikke etter denne forskriften [Annex 1 to the Draft Regulations: Foods That Are Considered Unhealthy Food and Drink After This Regulation], GOVERNMENT.NO (last visited Aug. 28, 2013) [presented as documentation for a hearing held on Aug. 23, 2013].)

Section 4 of the Draft Regulations prescribes the prohibition on marketing of unhealthy food and drink to children (Draft Regulations, § 4 ¶ 1). It also sets forth the parameters for assessing what constitutes such marketing, e.g., promoting a form of presentation or design that especially appeals to children because of the language, colors, and so on (id.§ 4 ¶ 2(a)); making children the target group for the marketing (id. § 4 ¶ 2(a)); or using persons; animation; or gifts, toys, or games of particular appeal to children (id. § 4 ¶ 2(d-g).) The draft regulations give January 1, 2015, as the date of entry into force (id. § 7.)

Self-Regulation by the Industry to Be Allowed Until 2015

The industry reportedly presented its new self-regulatory guidelines on June 5, 2013, according to a MHCS press release. (Barn og Unge Skal Beskyttes mot Markedsføring av Usunn Mat og Drikke, supra.) The aim of the industry marketing restrictions is to prevent children from becoming overweight, as “[t]here is a clear link between child obesity and the likelihood of contracting serious illnesses later in life,” and one of every six eight-year-olds in Norway is overweight. (Id.)

The industry’s self-regulatory guidelines were first developed in 2007, and Norway is said to be a leader among European countries in working to prevent the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. (Sissel L. Beckmann, Deputy Director General, MHCS, Regulation on Food Marketing and Advertising to Children: Regulations in Norway, Powerpoint slide 11 (IV NAOS Convention, Madrid, June 17, 2010) [NAOS is the Spanish acronym for Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention]; Norway Leads Europe in Protecting Children from “Unhealthy” Food Marketing, World Health Organization/Europe website (June 25, 2012.)

Because the industry developed a scheme of self-regulation to protect children and adolescents from the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages, the government has not finalized the draft regulations. It will initially allow the industry’s self-monitoring system to work for two years; in the autumn of 2015, the relevant ministries, in consultation with the industry, will evaluate whether the system has resulted in reduced marketing of the unhealthy products to children and adolescents. (Letter, supra.)

The State of Play in Norway and Europe

Norway’s National Institute for Consumer Research (Statens Institutt for Forbruksforskning, SIFO), recently reported that there is “surprisingly little advertising” of unhealthy food and beverages aimed at children via various media, “such as television, internet, computer games, comics, magazines, and cinema.” (Press Release, SIFO, Overraskende lite reklame for usunn mat (Aug. 20, 2013).)

Nevertheless, a 2012 study of children and the consumption of junk food in Europe expressed concern about the effectiveness of self-regulation. According to Dr. Tim Lobstein, author of the report A Junk-Free Childhood 2012: Marketing Foods and Beverages to Children in Europe,

The food and beverage companies were told in 2004 by the then European Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou that they must cut their advertising to children or face regulation. The figures show that self-regulation achieved only a 29% fall in children’s exposure, which is deeply disappointing. Exposure is now creeping up again in some countries. … 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. (Press Release, IASO, Junk Food Advertising to Kids: Self-Regulation Is Failing Across Europe (Sept. 27, 2012) [see the Notes to the Press Release for a link to the report].)

Final Note

The International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) website has a “World Map of Obesity“; running the cursor over a country highlights information on the percentages of obese men and women in that jurisdiction for the year(s) surveyed, and clicking on the country reveals more details, set forth farther down the page below the map. The IASO also has an Obesity Data Portal with links to information in tables, charts, and other maps.

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