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Junk food avoids further ad restrictions

News, 19 August 2016
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LONDON: The advertising industry has been broadly welcoming of the UK government's newly published childhood obesity strategy, even if both campaigners and food and drink manufacturers have been critical.

The strategy involves "a broad, structured sugar reduction programme to remove sugar from the products children eat", with the – voluntary – aim of taking out 20% of sugar content by 2020 – including a 5% reduction in the first year – while also encouraging greater physical activity.

Soft drinks brands, meanwhile, have been given two years to reduce sugar content to levels that can escape the so-called "sugar tax".

There are no plans, however, to increase existing restrictions on the marketing of such products, as was recommended by a House of Commons committee last year.

"Advertising has already taken action to end HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) ads in children's media, whether on TV, online or elsewhere," noted Tim Lefroy, chief executive of the Advertising Association.

"We hope this announcement signals government's recognition that working together with UK agencies, brands and media will get us further, faster in improving the nation's health," he added, in remarks reported by The Drum.

The Obesity Health Alliance – a coalition of 33 charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups – said the plan fell "disappointingly short of what is needed", with some anticipated measures "significantly watered down or removed entirely".

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who has been a vocal leader of the campaign, highlighted the conditional language of the strategy – 'should', 'might', 'we encourage'. "Too much of it is voluntary, suggestive," he said, "Where are the mandatory points? Where are the actions on the irresponsible advertising targeted at our children, and the restrictions on junk food promotions?"

If campaigners saw the strategy as "an unforgivable missed opportunity", manufacturers predictably viewed it from the opposite perspective.

Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, called the sugar tax "a disappointing diversion from effective measures to tackle obesity", adding that the overall plan also focused too much on "this single nutrient".

Coca-Cola was similarly critical. "A policy focused on a single nutrient in narrow range of products – that provide an average of just 5% of the total calories in a British teenager's diet – is not the right response," it said in a statement.

Data sourced from HM Government, BBC, The Drum, Telegraph, Business Insider; additional content by Warc staff

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