UK Agency Body Hits Back at ‘Junk Food’ Ad Critics

15 August 2003

Britain's Institute of Practitioners in Advertising today (Friday) counterattacked in the war against the growing legion of opposition to the advertising to childrenof so-called junk foods.

With a defensive battle cry borrowed from the US – freedom of commercial expression – the IPA condemned the call for a ban on such advertising as “naïve, ill conceived and in many cases nothing other than an excuse to shift the blame for increasing levels of obesity to an easy and visible target”.

It cited a number of facts about influences on food choices and causes of obesity …

• Obesity is due largely to decreasing energy output not more calorific input, the abdication of parental responsibility and changing social needs.

• Advertising is ranked the 7th factor influencing a child’s food choice well below other factors such as parental guidance.

• There is no evidence that advertising is responsible for obesity levels.

• Strict regulation already exists in the UK and research shows further restrictions would have no impact on the choice of foods by children or adults.

The IPA pointed out that calorific intake has actually fallen in the past 20 years and the key factor in rising levels of obesity is not so much changing eating habits as falling activity levels.

The average walking distance per person has declined dramatically since 1986. The number of walking trips made by 5-10 year olds has fallen by 17% and by 29% in those aged between 11 and5.

Then the clarion call in defence of freedom of commercial expression.

“It must be the foundation of any free democratic society that if a product or service is legal, and subject to responsible and legitimate regulation where appropriate as is the case in the UK, then there exists a legal right to market that product or service. The importance of freedom of commercial expression cannot be ignored or undervalued; it is the basis of the success of the industrialised world.”

But some observers believe the IPA’s credible and doughty defence was not helped by a descent into nose-thumbing: “It maybe that leaders of certain consumer groups want us all to live in a cave eating root vegetables,” said the body, “but the majority of the British population believe and support a free economic market.

Data sourced from: IPA Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff