During COVID-19, Internet access became crucial for everyday life – people around the world needed it to access health information and other essential services. However, the digital environment is increasingly becoming a space where people’s rights are at risk and a place where products, especially unhealthy food products, are marketed (directly and indirectly) online. The Global Health Advocacy Incubator’s Food Policy Program partners saw a shift in how they advocated for healthy food policies, having to adjust their strategies for a digital environment.
Recognizing these pressing challenges, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) issued the General Comment No. 25 on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment earlier this year. The General Comment describes how the business sector can – directly and indirectly – undermine children’s rights in the digital environment, and mandates private actors to prevent and provide remedies to these violations. This can have a significant impact for our partners who often deal with interference from the food and beverage industry when trying to pass healthy food policies that regulate the industry’s marketing practices.
Aware of the use of influencers and many subtle strategies by companies, the Committee also noted that advertising, sponsorship, product placement and all other forms of commercially driven content of ultra-processed products should be clearly distinguished from all other content. This public health measure will limit the exposure of children and adolescents to unhealthy foods that can damage their health and quality of life.
The Committee also encouraged member countries to consider ways in which digital environments may impact violence against children, children’s overall health and wellbeing, and the inclusion of children with disabilities.
GHAI’s Food Policy program works with civil society organizations in countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia to advocate for healthy food policy solutions and to restrict marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children. We applaud the UN’s efforts to protect children by issuing this General Comment.