In his report to the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health  draws links between unhealthy foods and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Below is a short summary of some of the issues raised. Download the full text. Please note that this is not an official UN summary.


Annual Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

Anand Grover


Report published: 1 April 2014


Diet-related NCDs

Despite the common association of NCDs with older persons, children are also affected by the full range of NCDs, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and by their risk factors such as being overweight or obese. Diet-related NCDs and obesity affect even very young children. For instance, of the 500 million obese people worldwide in 2008, more than 42 million were children under the age of five, with 35 million of those children in developing countries. (para. 34)

Children are particularly vulnerable to diet-related NCDs either because they may be dependent on others, such as parents or schools, for food, or because they are more susceptible to marketing pressures. In addition, unhealthy childhood diets can have severe health consequences later in life because of the early formation of eating habits and preferences and also because childhood NCDs are likely to persist into adulthood. Addressing unhealthy diets as a risk factor for NCDs in children can bring substantial health gains and reduce the burden of health-care expenditure over their entire life cycle. (para. 35)


Advertising targeted at children

In addition to marketing of unhealthy food targeted at children, including through toy giveaways, competitions, social media, cartoon characters, games, television, movies, interactive websites and in youth-oriented settings such as schools and recreation centres, parents are also often targeted by such pervasive marketing. This is done to encourage parents to buy unhealthy foods for their children. In many cases, the food industry’s marketing to children and their parents may be disproportionately aimed at particular racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups, exacerbating health inequities faced by those groups. (para. 36)

Recognizing the role of the food industry in the growing burden of NCDs, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the food industry refrain from marketing, promoting and advertising of unhealthy foods to the population, especially to children; (para. 66)


Healthy choices and education

Children are also frequently exposed to junk foods in both public and private settings. Food served or sold in institutional settings such as schools may be disproportionately weighted towards junk foods or other foods of limited nutritional value, particularly in school lunch programmes, where funds for healthier foods may be limited. Other places serving children and youth, such as sports centres, may also lack healthy food options. In the private sector, meals designed for children are often high in fat, sugar and salt, and fail to meet children’s nutritional needs, especially at fast food establishments. This may be the case even for foods marketed as “healthy” children’s meals. Where genuinely nutritious options are available, the default option may still be the unhealthy one. (para. 37)

States are urged to implement their obligations regarding children’s right to health, which requires States to address obesity in children, limit children’s exposure to fast foods and drinks high in sugar and caffeine and other harmful substances, regulate the marketing of such foods and control their availability in schools and other places frequented by children. States should also ensure that effective health education and awareness programmes are targeted toward children, such as countermarketing campaigns or peer education programmes, and that healthy food options and information relating to them are available at institutions serving children, such as schools, paediatric health facilities or youth centres. (para. 38)



Since addressing the risk factors of NCDs involves long-term behavioural change, ownership of health policies by local communities can ensure the success and sustainability of nutrition and preventive health programmes. The participation of local communities ensures that health policies and programmes are better targeted to their health needs. Including children’s involvement and input in school lunch programmes can help identify options that are both healthy and appealing to children, and has often shown that the perception that children prefer unhealthy options is inaccurate. (para. 49)

States should ensure meaningful and effective participation of affected communities such as farmers and vulnerable groups like children, women and low-income groups in all levels of decision-making to discourage production and consumption of unhealthy foods and promote the availability and accessibility of healthier food options. (para. 63)


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