May 24, 2024

WHO/Europe is calling upon consumers to become a part of a project aimed at creating a healthier society. You can contribute to the training of an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that will help countries across the WHO European Region to effectively monitor and regulate the promotion of harmful products that are mainly targeted at children – from tobacco and alcohol to foods high in salt, trans fats and sugars – and to monitor the marketing of breastmilk substitutes (BMS) and foods for infants and young children (FIYC). 

Why does this matter? Online advertisements harm children’s health

Marketing of BMS and FIYC, especially digital marketing, threatens efforts to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. There is clear evidence that the pervasive use of both direct and indirect marketing strategies by industry undermines optimal infant and young child feeding practices, including breastfeeding and safe and appropriate complementary feeding, placing a child’s survival, growth and development at risk. This also violates the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.

There is also clear evidence that the promotion of unhealthy products for infants and children increases their risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), from diabetes and cardiovascular diseases to cancer. In addition, online marketing of fast food and sugary drinks is related to the growing public health problem of childhood overweight and obesity, which can lead not only to premature mortality from NCDs but also to adverse health outcomes throughout life. 

Today, as policy-makers are trying to protect the health of children by restricting advertising, industry deploys marketing approaches that aggressively use digital strategies that are sophisticated, diverse and highly influential. In many countries this is still an unregulated grey area with transnational capabilities without constraints. The same is true for marketing of BMS and FIYC.  

The new online tool from WHO aims to give consumers an opportunity to counter these marketing tactics. 

“We have created our AI tool to support governments to develop new ways to monitor and protect the health of children. We also want to encourage a wide movement among the public to take part in this work if they want to improve our children’s future, to promote healthier choices for a better life,” explains Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, WHO/Europe’s Regional Adviser on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. 

The new AI tool developed by the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs is now ready, but to be effective it needs engagement from as many consumers as possible. 

What do we need from you? It’s easy: share screenshots and pictures! 

Whenever you come across online or offline advertisements promoting any products that could negatively impact children or undermine efforts to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, take a screenshot or picture and upload it to the WHO tool using the link provided on this page. 

WHO is focusing on advertisements for the following harmful foods and products: 

  • unhealthy foods/drinks 
  • alcohol 
  • cigarettes/novel tobacco products such as vaping devices. 

In addition, WHO needs images related to the marketing of the following products:

  • any milks that are specifically marketed for feeding infants and young children up to the age of 3 years, including infant and follow-up formulas and drinks for young children (often referred to as growing-up or toddler milks); 
  • any other product marketed or otherwise represented as suitable for feeding infants up to the age of 6 months, as anything fed to a baby before the age of 6 months, including water, will replace breastmilk; 
  • feeding bottles and teats; and
  • commercially produced foods that are marketed as being suitable for infants and young children from the age of 6 months to 36 months. 

The app includes a user-friendly web tool that allows you to anonymously upload your pictures. Privacy is important and this tool ensures that all the information you enter remains secure. 

The screenshots can be from social media platforms, meal delivery apps, websites, games, or anything else accessible through your phone. 

Photographs of offline advertisements are also needed. If you encounter promotional material dedicated to the same unhealthy products in journals, newspapers, cinemas, or billboards, please take a picture and upload using the same form. 

Who can support us? The answer is simple: everyone! 

Whether you’re a concerned individual over 18 years old, a parent, a health professional, or someone who is simply passionate about promoting a healthier environment, we welcome your participation. 

Together, let’s take a stand against the marketing of products that threaten the health of our children. Join our campaign today and become a catalyst for positive change. Your contribution can make a real difference in shaping a healthier future for all. 

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This article was amended on 11 July 2023 to further clarify the rationale for why WHO is collecting images of promotions of breastmilk substitutes and other foods for infants and young children.

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