Agro-food industry growth and obesity in China: what role for regulating food advertising and promotion and nutrition labelling?


C Hawkes, IFPRI, 2033 K Street NW, Washington DC 20006, USA. E-mail:


Taking a food supply chain approach, this paper examines the regulation of food marketing and nutrition labelling as strategies to help combat obesity in China in an era of rapid agro-food industry growth. China is the largest food producer and consumer in the world. Since the early 1980s, the agro-food industry has undergone phenomenal expansion throughout the food supply chain, from agricultural production to trade, agro-food processing to food retailing, and from food service to advertising and promotion. This industry growth, alongside related socioeconomic changes and government policies, has encouraged a ‘nutrition transition’. China's population, especially in urban areas, is now consuming significantly more energy from dietary fat, which is leading to higher rates of obesity. Regulation of food advertising and promotion and nutrition labelling has the potential to help prevent the further growth of obesity in China and encourage the agro-food industry to supplier healthier foods. Government legislation and guidance, as well as self-regulation and voluntary initiatives, are needed to reduce children's exposure to food advertising and promotion, and increase the effectiveness of nutrition labelling. Policies on food marketing and nutrition labelling should be adapted to the China context, and accompanied by further action throughout the food supply chain. Given China's unique characteristics and position in the world today, there is an opportunity for the government and the agro-food industry to lead the world by creating a balanced, health promoting model of complementary legislation and industry action.