Food marketers defend advertising to children

The Food Advertising Unit (FAU), the body which represents food marketers’ interests, has called for a greater emphasis on education, diet, exercise and parenting – rather than a ban on advertising and promotion to children – to solve the problem of childhood obesity.

The comments come as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) publishes a consultation paper on possible action regarding the promotion of foods to children. The paper suggests banning all promotions aimed at children, including sponsorship and celebrity endorsements. It suggests that celebrities could be used to promote healthy alternatives instead.

FAU director Jeremy Preston, who was speaking at a Marketing Society debate on the causes of childhood obesity, said that poor lifestyles, rather than TV advertising, are to blame for the rise in obesity and that children and parents need to be educated on how to live healthier lifestyles. He added that the food industry needs the full support of the Government to develop an effective solution.

Associate director of the National Heart Forum Jane Landon, who also spoke at the debate, said that marketers and advertisers are trying to deflect attention away from the effect of advertising by concentrating on issues of exercise and lifestyle. She called for marketers and the advertising industry to take responsibility for the effect of advertising on children and to address the issue before the Government was forced to do so.

FSA chairman Sir John Krebs says that doing nothing about childhood obesity is not an option. In September, the agency produced a report that concluded there is a link between obesity and food promotions. Professor Gerard Hastings, the report’s author, warned food manufacturers that they are in the “last chance saloon” (MW October 2).

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