UK Medics Call For Food Ads Balance

06 June 2005

British doctors want advertisers of 'junk' food and alcohol to pay for public health messages.

Delegates at a British Medical Association conference in London backed a motion calling for a so-called 'fairness doctrine', whereby health education TV commercials are given the same amount of time and space as those promoting alcohol, fatty foods and products aimed at children.

The motion's proposer Dr Noel Olsen, who also chairs the Alcohol Addiction and Research Council, said: "Under the polluter-must-pay principle, we say that there should be equal access to advertising time and media coverage where there is clear evidence of damage to health."

He also urged an end to tax concessions that allow companies to claim the cost of advertising junk food and alcohol as a 'business expense'. Olsen sees these proposals as a 'halfway house' to medics' preferred option of banning all junk food ads.

In the light of rising obesity levels, the food industry is under increasing pressure over promoting sugary and high-fat products to children. The government is also wrestling with the best way to balance the concerns of consumers, manufacturers and the media.

Andrew Brown, director general of the Advertising Association, responds robustly: "They call it a 'fairness doctrine'. There is nothing fair in the assumption, which is unproven, of guilt around the advertising of certain foods."

He adds: "Finger pointing is not helpful . . . We are doing an awful lot to try to be helpful and collaborate."

Data sourced from Brand Republic (UK); additional content by WARC staff