Does the UK Promotion of Food and Drink to Children Contribute to their Obesity?

Tim Ambler
London Business School

In 2003, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) sought reliable academic advice and commissioned the Hastings Study 'to examine the current research evidence on: the extent and nature of food promotion to children and the effect, if any, that this promotion has on their food knowledge, preferences and behaviour'. Contemporaneously, the UK Advertising Association, through its Food Advertising Unit, commissioned other studies that reached different conclusions.

This paper reviews these contributions to ascertain the common ground and the reliability of the conclusions that appear to have been drawn by the FSA for national policy making. The paper's first conclusion is that considering the effect of branded food and drink promotions outside their socio-economic and cultural context is unreliable. Second, while there are promotional effects at the brand level, these do not extend to product category level, still less overall diet, where the evidence is thin at best. Reanalysing the data provided in the Hastings Study shows that its assertions about category and diet effects do not appear to be well founded.