UK Government Agency Slams Childrens' Food Ads

26 September 2003

UK government agency, the Food Standards Authority, on Thursday published a report slamming the food industry for its targeting of children and calling for a ban on advertising to minors.

Not only is there a large volume of food and drink advertising directed at children, reports the FSA, such advertising also exerts a marked influence on their preferences, purchase behaviour and consumption.

TV is marketers’ preferred medium and the report categorizes food into five main groups: pre-sugared breakfast cereals, soft drinks, confectionery, savoury snacks and fast food outlets.

According to MediaGuardian, the top ten such advertisers are:

1. McDonald's - £42m
2. Coca-Cola original - £15.5m
3. Kentucky Fried Chicken - £15.1m
4. Burger King - £11.1m
5. Pizza Hut - £9.3m
6. Diet Coca-Cola - £7.3m
7. Pringles - £6.7m
8. Kit-Kat - £6.4m
9. Weetabix - £6.3m
10. Kellogg's Corn Flakes - £6.2m.

Eight of these ten brands are US-owned.

Argues Kath Dalmeny, policy officer for healthy eating lobbyist The Food Commission: “Children are already eating too much fat, sugar and salt, yet we allow them to be systematically targeted with advertising for unhealthy foods.”

Continued Dalmeny: “ The Food Standards Agency's review provides the evidence of what parents have known all along – advertising encourages children to choose unhealthy foods and to pester their parents for them.”

The advertising industry was quick to respond. Although it had not yet had the opportunity to review in full the FSA report, said The Food Advertising Unit (an industry-funded body dealing with issues of food advertising to children), it commented in a statement issued Thursday …

“The food, drink and advertising businesses agree with Professor Hastings [the report’s author] that the issue is very complex and this report needs professional consideration and measured response. This is necessary because these industries wish to continue a constructive dialogue with the FSA and contribute to finding workable solutions.”

Added FAU director Jeremy Preston: “Increasing levels of overweight and obesity among the population are a result of an imbalance in energy intake and expenditure and is affected by a range of important lifestyle factors, advertising being at best a minor influence.

“The problem needs a solution that is practical, relevant and sustainable and not just a quick fix. The advertising industry wants to be part of that solution and will be making informed recommendations when the FSA report has been fully reviewed.”

For a summary of the report click here.

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff