Governments failing to protect child rights by not restricting junk food marketing

New WCRF report highlights damaging impact of marketing unhealthy food to children.

23 January 2020

A new report from World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) highlights that countries around the world, including the UK, are failing to protect children from the effects that junk food marketing has on their health. This undermines a child’s right to health and adequate nutrition, as it is the government’s role to protect the best interests of all children.

Marketing affects what children want, buy and eat, which in turn affects their health and contributes to the increasing levels of childhood obesity. Previous research has shown that seeing 4.4 minutes of food advertising can lead to children eating 60 more calories a day¹, and eating as little as 46 extra calories each day can lead to excess weight in children².

Urgent need for marketing restrictions

Global childhood obesity rates are on the rise and, in the UK alone, one in three children are overweight or obese when they leave primary school. Overweight or obese children are more likely to be overweight or obese adults, putting them at an increased risk of a number of deadly conditions including at least 12 different cancers*. The report takes lessons learned from around the world, highlighting that restricting marketing of junk food to children reduces their exposure to these products and therefore reduces how much of them they eat. This can help reduce childhood obesity rates and it is why marketing restrictions are internationally recognised as urgently needed.

Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance lead, said:

The food industry use a range of marketing techniques to keep the spotlight on their products and evidence shows that children are particularly vulnerable. TV shows and websites popular with children are flooded with adverts for high fat and sugary products and the government needs to do more to ensure that children are adequately protected. There is overwhelming public support for a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts across all types of media. If we ignore the evidence and calls for stronger marketing restrictions to uphold child rights and improve child health, the UK will not make progress on reversing its childhood obesity rates.

Kate Oldridge-Turner, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at WCRF, said:

Our report highlights the vital role that governments play in ensuring that junk food is not actively promoted to children. We are calling for the new UK government to take a fresh approach at tackling childhood obesity rates, and what better time than Sugar Awareness Week (20–26 January). For example, by introducing tighter restrictions on junk food marketing aimed at children that prevent food companies finding loopholes in the current legislation; such as a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts across all media.

Katharine Jenner, Nutritionist and Campaign Director at Action on Sugar, said:

Poor diet is now the leading cause of premature death and disability in this country, with high salt, sugar and saturated fat intakes leading to high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and various cancers. Previous governments have been scared of tackling big businesses for economic reasons, yet obesity costs our country at least £27 billion each year. As we embark on a new decade with a new government and a strong mandate, the time is right to be bold and restrict these food and drink promotions with immediate effect.


For more information and media enquiries contact Maxine Lenza, Press and Communications Officer at WCRF, on 020 7343 4235 or /


1Russell SJ, Croker H, Viner RJ (2019). The effect of screen advertising on children’s dietary intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev.

2Plachta-Danielzik S, Landsberg B, Bosy-Westphal A, Johannsen M, Lange D, Muller M. Energy gain and energy gap in normalweight children: longitudinal data of the KOPS. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008, 16(4).

*WCRF’s research shows that overweight and obesity increases the risk of:

  • mouth, pharynx and larynx cancers
  • oesophageal cancer
  • stomach cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • gallbladder cancer
  • liver cancer
  • bowel cancer
  • breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • womb cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • kidney cancer

Notes to editors

Building Momentum: Lessons on implementing robust restrictions of food and non-alcoholic beverage marketing to children is the third report in the series. The first looked at sugar-sweetened beverage taxes and the second looked at front-of-pack labels.

About World Cancer Research Fund

World Cancer Research Fund is one of the world’s leading cancer prevention charities, and the only UK charity dedicated to funding life-changing research into the prevention of cancer through diet and lifestyle. We cut through the jargon to turn the latest global research on cancer prevention and survival into practical, straightforward advice and information, helping anyone who wants to reduce their risk of developing cancer to make fully informed lifestyle choices.

Find out more: