29 June 2000

Strict curbs on food advertising targeting children have been mooted by a government taskforce amid growing concern about their poor diet. Meanwhile, Britain's ad industry is hastily mustering opposition to any such move.

The taskforce, chaired by Robert Pickard of the British Nutrition Foundation, has called for "controls" to ensure the balance of food ads is aligned with healthy eating, whilst the newly-created Food Standards Agency is also mulling plans for a food advertising code of practice.

According to a BNF consultation paper, most food advertising promotes products that are unconducive to good health. Fruit and vegetables, which should comprise 33% of people's diet, account for only 5% of advertising; whereas 70% of TV commercials for food (during children's weekday viewing slots) promote products high in fat, salt and sugar. "Food advertising that might result in long term harm to children should be banned," argues the BNF.

The UK Advertising Association will next week urge the government to reject such a "quick-fix" solution. Says AA head of public affairs Sara Price: "It is easier and less expensive to blame advertising and to be seen to be doing something by introducing yet more controls – and even bans – which are unjustified, unnecessary and extremely unlikely to make the slightest difference to the nation's diet."

According to Price, consumers are well aware they should eat more fresh fruit and vegetables; and that children are putting on weight because of lack of exercise. She argues that ads are already strictly regulated, citing research which suggests that advertising accounts for only 5% of all influences on children's food choices.

An outright ban is thought unlikely as ministers are sensitive to accusations of creating a "nanny state". A compromise, such as the FSA's proposed code of practice, appears more likely.

News Source: CampaignLive (UK)