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Digital Advertising Exposes Young People and Children to Nefarious Products

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Young people and children are increasingly exposed to health-threatening products through social networks due to lack of regulation of digital advertising, a report from the European division of the World Health Organization (WHO) warns today.

Despite the existing policies and commitments to limit the promotion of health-related products to minors, such as high-fat drinks, sugar and salt, alcoholic beverages or tobacco, including new products such as electronic cigarettes, WHO Europe believes there is evidence of children are still exposed to this type of product through digital channels.

The document, entitled “Supervision and Restriction of Digital Marketing of Harmful Products for Children,” advocates greater monitoring of digital advertising of this type of product by countries, but also by parents of children.

The authors of the report believe that controlling digital advertising of harmful foods targeted at children and young people can be instrumental in reducing the negative impact of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, obesity and chronic respiratory diseases, which account for 86% of deaths and 77% of health care costs in Europe.

The report is the result of a meeting with experts held in June in Moscow, with João Breda being the coordinator of the European Union’s Directorate for the prevention and control of chronic noncommunicable diseases, covering 53 countries, including Portugal.

The meeting wanted to discuss the challenges of digital advertising for health-related products, bearing in mind that children spend more and more time on the Internet, especially on platforms and social networks such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or Snapchat, and that exposure to digital advertising increased.

Some organizations, such as advertising agencies, are using sophisticated techniques, taking advantage of the fact that the growing use of mobile phones and social networks allows the transmission of personalized and targeted messages and “increasingly persuasive,” the authors write.

Experts also concluded that “regulatory and self-regulatory strategies for traditional television and other media are obsolete,” told Breda after the presentation of the study in London.

One consequence was the development of a tool called CLICK to monitor children’s exposure to digital advertising, which will initially be tested by some countries, and whose results are expected to be released later this year.

A more muscular attitude is needed by parts of public entities, but countries can not work alone, so we want to develop common tools and strategies,” said João Breda.

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