MP urges passage of junk food bill
Junk food adverts targeted directly at kids
must be banned if the UK is to seriously tackle
the issue of childhood obesity, claims an MP.
As a result, a bill has been proposed that would
prohibit the marketing to children of those foods
that are “detrimental to the health, well-being or
educational performance” of children.
These include foods that may not be exclusively
children’s foods, for instance crisps, sugary soft
drinks and chocolate bars, but which are
aggressively marketed to them.
The MP behind the initiative, Mary Creagh, is
introducing the Children's Food Bill because she
believes the government has not gone far enough.
Earlier this year the Choosing Health, White Paper
launched by Blair's government asked advertisers
in the food industry to voluntarily cease
advertising of foods high in salt and sugar to
children. The government said if this was not
achieved by 2007 it will seek to legislate.
But Creagh believes that so far this has not, and
will not, work. She is seeking immediate action,
believing the issue of children’s health is not
one that should wait for the voluntary actions of
food advertisers which may potentially lose
revenue if it is enforced.
Creagh has significant academic backing for her
campaign. In July 2004 Ofcom published research
that supported the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA)
conclusion of the direct effect of television food
advertising on children’s diets.
Both the FSA and Ofcom are said to agree that
there are also significant indirect effects of
advertising, which have a ‘powerful influence’ on
young people’s diets.
The research also suggests that food promotions to
children are dominated by unhealthy foods and more
than 95 per cent of all the foods advertised on
children’s television are for products which are
high in fat, sugar or salt.
Point-of-sale advertising in supermarkets would
also be clamped down on if the bill were passed.
Creagh, who proposed the bill in May this year, is
concerned that the use of cartoon characters to
sell such products needs to change as children
easily recognise them.
Not everyone believes that such a ban would be
effective. The Incorporated Society of British
advertisers (ISBA) for example, argues there is no
short-term fix for the rising obesity problem in
“It is irresponsible to simply blame advertisers,
this is a serious social issue which will not be
resolved over night. Some campaigners are avoiding
responsibility and using advertisers as an easy
hit”, said director of public affairs, Ian Twinn.
He claimed that ISBA, which represents food
manufacturers and retailers from across the board,
should be encouraged to use advertising as a
positive tool in the fight for healthy lifestyles
of young children.
Discussing advertisements aimed at children,
Martin Paterson, deputy director of the Food and
Drink Federation (FDF) said: “We share the
scepticism about the usefulness of bans expressed
by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and indeed Ofcom.
However we agree that the regime must be
“The food and drink industry, along with the wider
advertising sector, last month announced proposals
including the creation of a new section in the
non-voluntary broadcasting codes specifically on
advertising to children.”
Some companies have already taken a stance.
Coca-Cola, for example, does not advertise in the
UK to children under 12, and they claim not to use
celebrities in promotional campaigns which may
have a direct appeal to the under 12s.
“Solutions to food and health issues, particularly
those involving children, will require all
parties, including politicians, the food chain and
government, to find ways of working together. This
bill highlights many areas where such cooperation
could be fruitful. The current Food Standards
Agency salt awareness campaign is an excellent
example of how industry and government can work
together,” said Paterson.
Interestingly, Creagh has employed the
celebrity-based tactics of the advertisers she is
working against in order to raise awareness of the
For example, an open letter signed by 23 prominent
food writers and chefs was this week sent to Prime
Minister Tony Blair in an attempt to receive his
support for the Children’s Food Bill.
The bill, which will receive its second Commons
reading on 28 October, is already supported by
more than 200 cross-party MPs and 150 national
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