Burger obesity

Junk food ads should be banned before the 9pm watershed, experts say

Banning the advertising of junk food to children should be the top priority in tackling obesity, according to a report published by more than 40 health organisations at the weekend.

TV advertising of junk food should only be broadcast after the 9pm watershed to avoid targeting children, according to the Food Environment Policy Index - the result of a year-long study by 73 experts. The panel also called for a ban on all forms of non-broadcast advertising of these food and drinks to children, and shutting down junk food and fizzy drink sponsorship of sports events such as the Olympics.

The report said the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, published in August, risked failure by making no proposals regarding advertising.

The second and third priorities in the Index are implementing the soft drinks levy and reformulation of processed foods.

The Index comes just days after the latest round of national data on childhood obesity, which showed obesity rates among five-year-olds and 11-year-olds are continuing to rise.

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “While it is good to see concerted action by the government on reformulation of processed foods, we must, at the same time, take action to help our children eat fewer processed foods.

“Parents are fighting a losing battle if their children are being constantly bombarded with advertising that idealises fast food. Other countries have managed to control this. Why can’t we?”

Dan Crossley, executive director of Food Ethics Council, added that “action on many fronts” was needed to tackle obesity. “However, until the government protects citizens from being constantly bombarded with advertising messages for unhealthy food and drinks, we will not make any significant progress. This work makes it clear that the government needs to take responsibility and regulate the type and quantity of advertising allowed, particularly in relation to children.”

Dr Tim Lobstein, director of policy at the World Obesity Federation, said: “The Food EPI results call for measures that will be resisted by food companies and advertisers, and we know they will use any means to weaken and undermine such measures. We need stronger regulation to prevent secret lobbying, private political funding and pro-business bias at the heart of government.”