MPs call for advertising restrictions on unhealthy foods to tackle child obesity

The Commons health select committee has accused the government of ignoring proposals from health experts

MPs are calling for the government to introduce new advertising restrictions which would stop supermarkets discounting unhealthy food and drinks as part of strict new measures intended to tackle child obesity.

In a new report, published today (27 March), the Commons health select committee urged the government to review its legislation regarding promotions for unhealthy food and drinks aimed at children.

The Committee of Advertising Practice, a sister organisation of the Advertising Standards Authority, has introduced new restrictions on adverting for high-fat and high-sugar foods on non-broadcast media – such as on smartphones, however the select committee said more action was needed.

“We urge a re-examination of the case for further restrictions on advertising of high fat, salt and sugar food and drink in the light of the most recent research not only on the effect of such advertising, but on the scale and consequences of childhood obesity,” said the report.

The select committee accused ministers of ignoring proposals from health experts in relation to marketing around unhealthy products.

“We are extremely disappointed that the government has rejected a number of our recommendations,” said Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee.

Wollaston maintained the current plan was failing to tackle child obesity and said the government’s “vague statements” on seeing how the current strategy would play out was “inadequate to the seriousness and urgency of this major public health challenge”.

She called on the government to set clear targets for reducing overall levels of childhood obesity as well as goals for “reducing the unacceptable and widening levels of inequality”.

The British Retail Consortium also backed the advertising restrictions, having advised the committee that regulation was needed in order to ensure that all retailers stop promotions of high-fat and high-sugar foods.

“We are extremely disappointed that the government has not regulated to provide the ‘level playing field’ on discounting and price promotions which industry representatives themselves have told us is necessary for the greatest progress,” said the report.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health supported the report’s conclusions and said advertising was undermining the government’s efforts to address child obesity.

“We’ve said time and again that it was an error for government to exclude TV junk food advertising restrictions in their obesity plan,” said Viner.

“We know these adverts have an effect on the type of food children consume, and experts from across the health sector, parents and the health select committee agree that a ban prior to the 9pm watershed is vital to help tackle the obesity crisis.”

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