UK Government Warns Food Ad Ban 'Not Ruled Out'

21 May 2004

The British government has warned food and drink advertisers it may still curb their advertising to children in a bid to tackle the growing obesity problem.

Speaking in a debate at the Westminster Media Forum, culture, media and sport minister Tessa Jowell said the government had "not ruled out" such a ban.

"There is a lot of public concern about the impact of advertising, particularly snack food advertising, and a lot of political pressure to find a solution," she said.

But Jowell -- who has previously signalled that the government is unwilling to introduce advertising curbs [WAMN: 04-Mar-04] -- added that ministers are yet to be convinced that a ban would work.

"In order to take out what would be a very substantial step, we have to be persuaded of the evidence and weigh up the degree of benefit in relation to the degree of damage that such a ban might create," she continued.

"Where do you focus the ban? On pre-school children, who arguably don't make individual choices? Or on the 'pocket money generation' of 6 to 12-year-olds? It's a fallacy [to say] that the right approach is clear and obvious."

Meanwhile, professor Gerald Hastings -- director of the centre for social marketing at the University of Strathclyde and one of the academics behind a report from the Food Standards Agency that found a link between advertising and children's consumption -- argued that ad curbs were not the answer.

"Banning TV advertising to children would at best be ineffective, as the money would just be spent elsewhere. We know this from tobacco," he commented. "Any solution has to revolve around reducing the amount of unhealthy marketing going on and increasing the amount of healthy marketing. We need to focus promotion to children on healthy options."

Separately, the food industry came under fire from public health minister Melanie Johnson, who pointed to Cadbury Schweppes' much-criticised Get Active scheme -- which offered school sports equipment in return for tokens on chocolate packaging [WAMN: 30-Apr-03] -- as an example of the sector's lack of foresight.

"Quite a lot of the food industry does lack vision in the way they can switch into the healthy food agenda," Johnson told delegates at the Forum. "We must wean our children off fat and sugar or they will become a condemned generation."

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff