LONDON: Food and advertising industry organisations have reacted defensively to the growing political debate around obesity which has seen a committee of MPs back a 20% tax on sugary drinks and tighter regulation of snack food advertising.
The issue has gained prominence over the past two months, following a TV documentary by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in which he highlighted the effects of sugar on children's health and called for viewers to sign a petition to force a parliamentary debate, which duly took place last night.
Earlier the same day the Commons Health Select committee published a report – Childhood obesity: brave and bold action – which concluded that "sugar has a significant impact on obesity, and that children are consuming up to three times the recommended maximum intake".
Its recommendations included stronger controls on price promotions of unhealthy food and drink, tougher controls on marketing and advertising of unhealthy food and drink, and a sugary drinks tax on full sugar soft drinks.
It urged the Government "to be bold in implementing policy" rather than waiting for further evidence.
Predictably, the industry was advocating the opposite approach. According to Ian Barber, director of communications at the Advertising Association, the report reflected "a narrow, medical perspective" and had failed to take evidence from advertising experts.
He argued that food advertising in the UK is already among the most strictly regulated in the world and that children see far fewer ads on TV for high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods than ever before.
And, reacting to the committee's suggestion that all HFSS food and drink advertising be restricted to after 9pm, he said that watershed time was "an analogue measure for a digital age that would hit programme budgets hard, even on channels with few or no children watching".
Food and Drink Federation director general Ian Wright accused the committee of having "swallowed whole the agenda of the pressure group Action on Sugar" and said it had shown "a worrying lack of understanding".
Data sourced from Parliament, Marketing Week, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff