UCL News


Ultra-processed food companies must stop marketing to children

8 July 2021

Ultra-processed food should carry serious health warnings, especially when marketed to children, according to UCL academics and global experts who are calling for children’s interests to be included across all government policies.

coca cola

 Professor Anthony Costello (UCL Institute of Global Health) and Professor Chris Van Tulleken (UCLH) joined a panel of experts at a Children in All Policies (CAP2030) event called Are We Selling Children & Adolescents A Lifetime Of Ill-Health?

The speakers all reinforced the need for companies that - exploit children through the marketing of products such as alcohol, tobacco, unhealthy food and drinks, breastmilk substitutes and gambling apps to be far better regulated.

Professor Costello said: “Children need stronger protection from commercial exploitation and we must do more to ensure companies who market harmful products are not infringing their rights to a happy and healthy life.

“We need better laws from Governments, more regulation and responsible behaviour from companies to act in the interests of children and to not always put profits first.

“At the same time, we need to imbue our children with a love of locally sourced, freshly prepared food, by restoring cooking and domestic science to the curricula of all our children in schools” 

Speaking at the event, Professor Van Tulleken added: “There is a one main single cause of the obesity pandemic: ultra-processed food. Many children eat up to 90 per cent of their calories from this type of food.

“The single change I would love to see is a ban on the marketing of ultra-processed food. I'd like to see warning labels on the packets, as they do in many South and Central American countries, saying this food is linked to cancer, metabolic disease, and will increase your rate your rate of weight gain.”

The panellists also discussed the issue of children’s rights and how the marketing of these products could be contravening laws against child protection.  

Dr Ranjana Ferrão Souza Cordeiro (V.M. Salgaocar College of Law, Goa) explained: “Few countries have laws which ban junk food advertisements and regulate the sale of junk food in and around schools and other places where children might find them. But even if the ad has been banned on the television, the product is still available in the market.

“Companies are frequently looking to trigger the buy button in the brain of the child. Children remain vulnerable. We have an obligation to protect them from the harmful impact of marketing. It's a global problem and we need a global approach. Marketing has caused a change in traditional dietary patterns.”

“The Children in All Policies (CAP-2030) Secretariat sits within UCL’s Institute for Global Health, led by UCL’s Professor Costello and Dr Sarah Dalglish, and implements the recommendations of the 2020 WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission report, ‘A future for the world’s children?’.

Are We Selling Children & Adolescents A Lifetime Of Ill-Health? is available to view here and is part of a series of events organised by CAP2030.

The full list of speakers included: Professor Alice Roberts (University of Birmingham), Professor Anthony Costello (UCL Institute for Global Health and CAP-2030's Senior Advisor), Dr Chris van Tulleken (Professor of infectious diseases at UCLH), Mutale Nkonde (AI For the People), Dr Raul Mercer ( FLACSO Social Sciences and Health Program, Argentina), Dr Ranjana Ferrão Souza Cordeiro (V.M. Salgaocar College of Law, Goa), Professor Alyshia Galvez (Lehman College) and Dev Sharma (Youth MP for Leicestershire, Food Foundation Ambassador and Co-Chair of Bite Back's 2030's Youth Board).



  • Source: Flickr Credit: Meghan Trace CC 2.0

Media contact

Rowan Walker

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 8515

Email: rowan.walker [at] ucl.ac.uk