DoH should be ‘bold and brave’ and restrict harmful junk food advertising
Ministers should resist the influence of the food and drink industry and put the health of our nation at the top of the agenda, writes Obesity APPG chair Maggie Throup
Over the last couple of years there has been much focus on the impact of sugar on children’s health and the growing problem of obesity. However, we must not lose sight of the role that foods high in fats and salt play in the epidemic of obesity that is sweeping across our nation. Yes, the salt content of processed food has been reduced over the last decade, mainly as a result of successful campaigns, and it is now common to find low-fat alternatives on the supermarket shelves, but there is more still to do.
Over the last 30 years there has been a substantial increase in weight of the population at the same time as a decline in the quality of diets in the UK. Sadly, if current trends continue, half of all children could be obese or overweight by 2020 – that’s just two years away.
As we focus our minds on trying to rid ourselves of those few extra pounds we so mysteriously gained over the festive season, I believe it is now the right time to focus the Government on measures to continue to tackle the obesity epidemic. The Childhood Obesity Plan published in August 2016 was intended to be just the start of the conversation. The debate on Tuesday 16th January is aimed at helping to continue that conversation and raise other measures the Government can take to stop and reverse the epidemic.
No one measure alone will successfully tackle either childhood or adult obesity – the Soft Drinks Industry Levy will play its part, as will Public Health England’s new year message that children should only have two snacks a day. Tackling junk food advertising is one more important piece of the jigsaw needed to address this issue.
It is well recognised that children and young people are particularly vulnerable to junk food marketing, with evidence showing a link between advertising and the types of food this group prefer to buy and eat.
Restrictions to advertising in or around programmes specifically made for children were introduced 10 years ago, but there has been no effort by any government since to update broadcast rules, despite widespread recognition of the health harms of junk food. By only applying broadcast restrictions to children’s programming, today’s pattern of TV viewing by children is not taken into account. The Westminster Hall debate will call for current viewing patterns to be taken into consideration ensuring an update in legislation to reflect these.
We could spend time debating whether restrictions on advertising are the role of the Health department or the responsibility of Culture, Media and Sport, but ultimately, we are discussing the health of our current and future generations and therefore it is my belief that the Health Department should grasp the responsibility and make a difference.
It is also my belief that we have gone past the stage of assuming the implementation of further restrictions to the advertising of food and drinks high in fats, salt and sugar are part of a nanny state and such an attitude should be resisted at all costs. There is now a consensus across both sides of the House that responsibility and duty of care needs to be shown to our children and young people by being bold and brave in actions which will not only have an impact on future generations but also on people today.
Now is the time to resist the influence of the food and drink industry, to restrict junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed and put the health of our nation at the top of the agenda.
Maggie Throup is Conservative MP for Erewash and chair of the Obesity APPG. Her Westminster Hall Debate takes place on Tuesday 16 January at 09.30.