The advertising industry has welcomed the Government’s decision not to introduce a blanket ban on advertising unhealthy food and drink to children as part of its ‘childhood obesity strategy’, claiming it has “already taken action” by launching its own public consultation in May this year.
The long-awaited Government report aims to tackle the problem of childhood obesity as figures show nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese. The strategy includes further details on a sugar tax as well as plans to increase sport in schools.
Yet other measures recommended by the Commons Health Select committee last year – such as banning junk food advertising during popular family TV shows and an outright ban on supermarkets placing sweets and junk food at checkouts or the ends of aisles – do not appear.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) launched a full public consultation in May this year as part of a review on how brands can target children in non-broadcast media, including online. It comes amid widespread concerns around childhood obesity and the need to ensure the rules reflect changing media habits.
At the time, Britvic CMO Matt Barwell highlighted that the brand already has strict rules in place over advertising to children, saying it does not advertise to children aged under 12, does not use licensed characters and does not associate with online games or gaming. “We pride ourselves on the strength of our global marketing code and are committed to high standards when it comes to protecting children. These proposed changes would lead to greater alignment between the CAP codes and our internal benchmark, which we welcome.”
And Advertising Association boss Tim Lefroy agrees, saying that the industry is already self regulating to end junk food ads aimed at children.
He adds: “Advertising has already taken action to end HFSS ads in children’s media, whether on TV, online or elsewhere. We hope this announcement signals government’s recognition that working together with UK agencies, brands and media will get us further, faster in improving the nation’s health.”
However, health campaigners claim the strategy is “appalling” and does not go far enough when it comes to advertising.
“This strategy was meant to be published a year ago, we’ve had a year of delays, and now it has been watered-down to a plan that doesn’t even include marketing restrictions,” says Malcolm Clark of the Children’s Food Campaign. “This is a truly shocking abdication of the government’s duties to secure the health and future of the next generation.”
Health campaigner and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver also released a statement, stating that he is “in shock” and that the strategy is far from robust.
He says: “It was set to be one of the most important health initiatives of our time, but look at the words used – ‘should, might, we encourage’ – too much of it is voluntary, suggestive, where are the mandatory points? Where are the actions on the irresponsible advertising targeted at our children, and the restrictions on junk food promotions?
“The sugary drinks tax seems to be the only clear part of this strategy, and with funds going directly to schools that’s great, but in isolation it’s not enough.”
Jamie Oliver, health campaigner and celebrity chef
Campaign group Action on Sugar claims Prime Minister Theresa May has “failed the nation” with a weak obesity strategy. It pointed to the 2011 ‘responsibility deal’ where the food industry was made responsible for policing themselves, and argued that voluntary measures do not work.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) says: “It is an insulting response to the UK crisis in obesity type 2 diabetes both in children and adults. This will bankrupt the NHS unless something radical is done.”
A ‘disappointing’ result for the soft drinks industry
While the ad industry has welcomed the report, other sectors are less pleased. The soft drinks industry has said it is “disappointed” after the Government pressed ahead with plans to introduce a sugar tax, with the funds raised used to support school sport and fitness programmes.
Brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Red Bull will be affected, as will beverages with lower sugar content such as tonic water and alcohol-free shandies. The new levy will not be paid on milk-based drinks and fruit juices.
The soft drinks industry criticised the Government’s plan, referencing an Oxford Economics study that shows the tax will lead to the loss of more than 4,000 jobs across the UK and a £132m hit to the economy.
“Given the economic uncertainty our country now faces we’re disappointed the Government wishes to proceed with a measure which analysis suggests will cause thousands of job losses and yet fail to have a meaningful impact on levels of obesity,” Gavin Partington, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association, says.
“As an industry we recognise we have a role to play in tackling obesity, so it’s a sad irony that the one category that has led the way in reducing consumers’ sugar intake – down 16% from soft drinks since 2012 – is being targeted for a punitive tax.”
Meanwhile, Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, argues that the food and drink industry is “committed” to its partnership with the Government in terms of meeting the challenges posed by obesity, but that the soft drinks tax is a “disappointing diversion”.
“The target set for sugars reduction in the plan is flawed. It focuses too strongly on the role of this single nutrient, when obesity is caused by excess calories from any nutrient.”
Ian Wright, director general, Food and Drink Federation
“Reformulation is difficult and costly: there are different challenges for each product; recipe change can only proceed at a pace dictated by consumers. We will of course do everything we can in the next six months to work towards a practicable reformulation solution while continuing to urge the Government to adopt a ‘whole diet’ approach.”
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