Ahead of International Youth Day, on Friday 12 August, two United Nations human rights experts warned about the impact of commercial advertising directed at young children that instils at an early age a culture of over-consumption and indebtedness.
The UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Püras, urged governments worldwide to regulate advertising directed at children:
“Such commercial messages have the potential to shape children’s long term consumer and financial behaviour, and they are growing in number and reach.
Child-directed advertisements may cause unhealthy consumer behaviour to become ingrained at an early age, conditioning children to respond later in their life to commercial stimuli by purchasing unnecessary products without regard to long-term financial consequences.
Many child-directed advertisements promote consumption of unhealthy foods with high sugar content and little nutritional value. Unhealthy childhood diets have severe health consequences likely to persist in adulthood. Regulating child-directed advertising for food products could therefore substantially improve health and reduce the burden of health-care expenditure.
Also, after being exposed to large numbers of child-directed advertisements, children may pressure their parents to purchase items that are neither budgeted nor pedagogically necessary, often at the expense of other important household needs.
Even in the face of growing inequality, overconsumption continues to increase. In many countries, family private debt has become a serious problem, rendering basic necessities unaffordable to certain individuals. It also has wider implications, as excessive household debt can easily spill over into a public debt crisis affecting an entire population.
It is important to reflect on the psychological dimensions of debt and overconsumption linked to the desire to keep up with living standards other persons enjoy. As a UNICEF study recently pointed out, children do not become happier by just acquiring more and more goods.
Many countries have prohibited television advertising at certain hours or in connection with children’s programmes. Brazil, Canada, Denmark, and Norway have for example restricted certain forms of advertising aimed at children. Also, the World Health Organization has recommended that settings where children gather should be free from all forms of marketing of unhealthy foods.
We call upon States to ban advertising, promotion and sponsorship by manufacturers of alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy foods in schools and in the context of children’s sporting events and other events that could be attended by children. In addition, States should create guidelines that either restrict or minimize the impact of the marketing of unhealthy foods, alcohol and tobacco in general.
More broadly, we urge States to regulate advertising directed at children, in conformity with the duty of States to protect children from material injurious to their well-being.”