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Stronger rules needed over junk food advertising

74% of parents are pestered by their children for junk food

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 09 October 2015

Much stronger advertising rules are needed urgently to try and stem the growth of childhood obesity in the UK, according to the charity the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The BHF has released details of a survey it commissioned that showed that almost three quarters of parents (74%) said their children had pestered them to buy junk food.

Of those who had experienced “pester power” at some point from their children, more than a third of the responses from parents related to junk food advertising, in particular to adverts children see on TV.

The findings came from a survey of 1,000 parents commissioned by the charity and carried out by marketing research company OnePoll.

Currently, around 30% of children in the UK are overweight or obese, and the BHF said it wanted the government to put strong measures in place with the publication of its upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy.

The BHF called on the government to:

  • introduce a 9pm watershed ban on junk food marketing with better restrictions of online content
  • issue guidelines on portion sizes and work with industry to ensure that the layout of shops and promotions were not used to aggressively promote unhealthy choices
  • tax sugary sweetened beverages to reduce consumption of a range of products which were both harmful and unnecessary and offered no nutritional benefit other than energy

Previous research by the Food Standards Agency found that TV marketing of food and drink products could influence children’s food preferences, said the BHF.

Loopholes in the UK regulatory system meant that junk food adverts which were banned during children’s programming could still be shown during family programming, such as X-Factor, when children’s TV viewing peaked.

Junk food displays at checkouts were also named in the new survey as a problem, with more than 40% of parents saying that this scenario was likely to trigger a request from their children for junk food.

The survey also showed that while the majority of parents felt that they had control over what their children ate and drank within the home, 75% admitted they did not know as much about what happened when their children were out and about.

The BHF said it wanted better regulations that would make being healthy easier and help stem the tide of serious health problems and health costs associated with obesity, such as heart and circulatory disease, for future generations.

Mike Hobday, the charity’s director of policy, said: “Parents want their children to be healthy, but at every step, the food and drinks industry are aggressively targeting children as consumers, and turning the checkout into a junk food battleground.

“The government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy is a huge opportunity to break down the barriers between us and a healthier environment for our children on a national scale.

“If we truly want our children to grow up strong and healthy and with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, parents needs to be supported by the government so that they stand a fighting chance of giving their children the kind of balanced diet that they need.”

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