Is a pre-watershed junk food advert ban going to work?

ITV’s chief executive, Carolyn McCall, has criticised plans for a possible ban on advertising foods high in fat, salt and sugar on TV before the 9pm watershed.

McCall went on to say that TV was being singled out, while other platforms didn’t have the same watershed. However, the restriction is supported by celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, a range of charities and MPs.

While McCall acknowledged the UK-wide obesity problem, she said that the issue is getting people to see junk food as part of a diet, not all of it. She also referenced the recent sugar tax, adding that ITV would “try very,very hard” to encourage manufacturers to reformulate products which include sugar, fat and salt.

The idea has also been criticised by the Advertising Association. They say evidence suggests that advertising has only a small impact on dietary behaviour, and other steps would be much more effective in tackling obesity.

Opposition to the sugar tax

The sugar tax that was introduced in April this year was met with differing actions by manufacturers. Tesco brought 85% of its own-brand soft drinks below the 5g tax threshold, while Britvic had managed to bring down 94% of its drinks. Meanwhile, AG Barr, owner of iconic Scottish drink Irn Bru, faced stiff opposition from customers when it published plans to bring sugar levels down to 4.7g per 100ml. An online petition “Hands Off our Irn Bru” has now been signed by 50,000 people. The dilemma facing manufacturers was that a major recipe overhaul would lose them more customers than a higher price. Coca-Cola, for example, said they had no plans to reduce the sugar and instead opted to lower the volume of its bottles.

40% of 10-11 year olds in London are overweight

The fight against childhood obesity has also seen plans by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to ban adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). The plan is meant to tackle London’s high childhood overweight and obesity rates, almost 40% of children aged 10-11 are overweight. However, the plans have been criticised by transatlantic anti-regulation campaign group Consumer Choice Centre, with managing director Fred Roeder calling it “heavy-handed and paternalistic”.

He said: “Advertisement bans are a significant step towards censorship. Everyone wants to fight childhood obesity, but limiting the freedom of expression of the food industry and trampling on consumer choice isn’t an appropriate solution.”

Plans are expected to be presented to MPs before they break in July.

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