Critics round on Health White Paper

The Government has been attacked by both sides of the obesity debate following the publication of the Department of Health White Paper, Choosing Health. The paper indicates that the food industry will have two years to act on junk food advertising to children before the Government makes any moves to restrict it through legislation.

Food advertisers claim that the paper, which was launched on November 16 by Health Secretary John Reid, has a “disproportionate focus on advertising”. But lobby group Sustain, which speaks on behalf of an alliance of food and children’s groups, believes that it is a “wasted opportunity”.

The Government says that there is a “strong case” for action to restrict the promotion and advertising of foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar to children. This is to apply across television and non-broadcast advertising, including sponsorship, point of sale and packaging. It has asked Ofcom to look at tightening rules on broadcast advertising and calls for the formation of a food and drink advertising forum, made up of a variety of stakeholders, to oversee non-broadcast campaigns.

But it adds that it will monitor this situation until 2007 and if there is no change in the level of food and drink advertising that is targeted at children, then it will introduce restrictions on advertising junk food before the 9pm watershed.

David Kershaw, partner at M&C Saatchi and chairman of the Advertising Association, says that the measures “are a misguided and cheap shot in the wrong direction that get people off the hook in terms of the real problems”.

His points are supported by ISBA director of public affairs Ian Twinn, who also criticises the 2007 deadline as it fails to take a holistic approach to the obesity problem. He says: “This effectively means that the industry has only two years to work out what might be effective action, implement that and have a measurable impact.”

Sustain marketing project officer Charlie Powell says that the food industry has not acted on the Commons Health Select Committee report and will not react to these latest calls.

The Government has also asked the food industry to increase the healthier options available by reducing levels of fat, salt and sugar in prepared and processed foods, to reduce portion sizes and to adopt clearer labelling.

The proposed introduction of a traffic-light system for labelling has been welcomed by retailers, although there is little agreement between the supermarkets. Sainsbury’s has introduced its own labelling scheme, called Wheel of Health, and Tesco is understood to be looking at new schemes. But a spokesman for Asda points out that a uniform scheme is important as consumers tend to shop in a number of different stores.

The paper also sets out a number of measures to reduce the level of smoking, binge drinking and sexually transmitted diseases.

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