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The Government must ban junk food adverts from being broadcast on television before 9pm if it wants to tackle childhood obesity, says the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The BHF says almost a third of the UK’s children are obese or overweight and the charity is calling for a clampdown on what it describes as ‘aggressive’ advertising of unhealthy food high in salt, fat and sugar.
Before the Government’s planned publication of its Childhood Obesity Strategy, the charity is urging Prime Minister David Cameron to introduce tighter regulations against advertisers to make eating healthy an easier choice and prevent serious health problems and health costs associated with obesity, such as heart disease.
Mike Hobday, director of policy at the BHF, said: “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. That’s why we’re calling for a ban."
Currently loopholes in UK rules mean that junk food tv adverts which are banned during children’s programming can still be shown during family programming, such as X-Factor, when children’s TV viewing actually peaks.
According to the BHF's September survey of 1,000 UK parents, 74 per cent of parents say their children have pestered them to buy junk food. More than a third of these pestered parents say their children's requests related to adverts they had seen on TV.
Junk food displays at checkouts were also named in the survey as ‘pester culprits’, with more than 40 per cent of parents saying they triggered pestering for junk food.
One parent said in the survey: “As a working parent, it’s easy to succumb sometimes to a ready meal that takes five minutes or to say yes to sweets by the till but it would be great to know that the government is on our side as parents.”
In light of this survey, the charity has also called for changes to ensure the layout of shops and promotions are not used to aggressively promote unhealthy choices.
Mike Hobday added: “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 odds and the shelves are literally stacked against families.”
Davina Ludlow, director of daynurseries.co.uk, the leading online guide to nurseries, said: “Adverts can be hugely influential so we are very pleased that the BHF has highlighted this issue. Children’s diets in their early years can shape their eating habits for the rest of their lives, impacting on their future health and wellbeing.
“Parents rightly want their children to be eating healthy, nutritional food and should be supported to do this. Nurseries do their utmost to help parents by teaching children about the importance of healthy food and encouraging children to eat well and enjoy a varied diet. It is crucial that children are not getting this conflicting message from junk food advertisers.”
The BHF is also pushing for guidelines on portion sizes and a tax on sugary drinks such as soft drinks and energy drinks that have added sugar. Its proposals for a tax does not include pure fruit juices without added sugar.
Meanwhile, a public consultation on introducing new rules for non-broadcast advertising of unhealthy food to children has just been launched by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP).
CAP, which writes the UK advertising codes administered by the Advertising Standards Authority, began its consultation for non-broadcast channels which include online, outdoor, print media, cinema and direct marketing.
In its consultation document, CAP stated: “The current rules already require that food and soft drink ads for non-broadcast ads must not condone poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children. Ads must not encourage pester power.”