Today experts publish England's first Food Environment Policy Index using a method developed by an international network of researchers tackling obesity (1) (2). Following a year-long process, involving 73 experts from 41 organisations, the Index ranks top priority the need to reduce exposure of children to advertising of junk food.
Specifically, they call for banning of TV advertising of unhealthy food and drink up to the 9pm watershed, all forms of non-broadcast advertising of these food and drinks to children and stopping fast food and fizzy drink sponsorship of sports events such as the Olympics which are viewed by children.
The government's Childhood Obesity Plan, published in August this year, takes no action on advertising. However, second and third priority in the Index were implementing the Soft Drinks Industry Levy and a reformulation programme for processed foods bought in supermarkets and in fast food chains. Both of these actions are being taken forward by government as part of the plan, but without action on advertising, their impact will be reduced. Nielsen AdDynamix data show that in 2015 less than 2% of food advertising spend went on fruit and vegetables compared to 20% on confectionery and snacks.
The Index comes just days after the latest round of national data on childhood obesity rates were published, which show obesity rates among five year olds and 11 year olds are still rising (3).
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 which idealises fast food. Other countries have managed to control this. Why can't we?"
Dan Crossley, Executive Director, Food Ethics Council said:
“Tackling obesity requires us all to take action on lots of fronts. However, we won’t make progress whilst we’re bombarded with advertising messages for unhealthy food and drink in so many places, so many times every day. That’s why the Government needs to step up and regulate the type and quantity of advertising allowed, particularly in relation to children.”
Dr. Tim Lobstein of the World Obesity Federation said:
"The Food EPI results call for measures which 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.”
Obesity Health Alliance (4) responded by saying:
“The food and drink industry wouldn’t spend billions of pounds each year on advertising and marketing if it didn’t work. We know that the pester power of younger children and the spending power of teenagers is influenced by what they see on TV, the internet and on their phone. Failing to tackle junk food advertising is a failure to acknowledge the very real effect the environment has on our children’s habits and ultimately obesity rates.”
Dr Modi Mwatsama from the UK Health Forum said:
“The Food EPI shows clear consensus among the experts on the need to tackle advertising to children. Marketing and promotions of junk foods were also identified as a priority for tacking obesity as part of Public Health England's sugar evidence review. Setting targets for fewer promotions on junk foods and more on health promoting foods such as vegetables and pulses would provide a quick win for tackling the nation’s high levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases.”
Notes to Editor
(1) Food Environment Policy Index was developed by INFORMAS
(4) Obesity Health Alliance is a coalition of over 30 organisations who have joined together to fight obesity