Internet, text messages tout bad food to kids, says Which?

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Which? has renewed calls for greater controls on food marketing to
children, claiming that new technologies like text messages are
contributing to the 'pester power' of manufacturers.

The UK consumer watchdog says it has conducted a survey between 8 and 12th February this year in which it questioned 2027 UK adults (over 16) on their views on marketing to children. It reports that four out of five respondents said irresponsible marketing makes it hard to encourage children to eat healthily. A similar number said they thought the government should introduce greater controls on marketing of unhealthy foods to children. In fact, greater controls on television advertisements for foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) around programmes aimed at children came into effect in the UK last year, and parallel measures cover adverts in other media like print. However a bill introduced by Edinburgh MP Nigel Griffiths, due to have its second reading in Parliament next week, calls for a 9pm watershed on adverting HFSS foods. Which? has come out in support of this bill, since it says surveys show children do not restrict their viewing habits to programming intended for their age group. As for the introduction of new technologies such as online and text messaging, Which? food campaigner Clare Corbett says these "have given food companies a whole new playground to promote unhealthy products to children"."It's no wonder pester power is a continuing problem and our research shows the real strength of public feeling. With childhood obesity and diet-related health problems on the increase, the government must take serious action - and soon." ​ Griffith's bill also seeks to protect children from other methods of marketing for unhealthy food, including, according to a Which? spokesperson, text messaging and the Internet. Although Which? grants that the the Committee for Advertising Practice code on marketing food to children does over these forms of media, it says that the code's wording is vague and open to interpretation, and it only covers younger children. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the trade organisation for UK food manufacturers, however, has said it does not recognise this scenario as being accurate. Director of communications Julian Hunt said that the new rules cover all aspects of broadcast and non-broadcast advertising "and have dramatically changed the marketing landscape".​ Claiming that the UK is now one of the most heavily regulated markets in Europe for food advertising, Hunt said: "Our members take a responsible approach to the way they market their products and further restrictions would seem to be neither necessary nor proportionate." ​ Ofcom has agreed to review the effect of the advertising restrictions early on, and initial indications are that compliance is high. Hunt also drew attention to one of the FDF's own surveys, conducted for it by BMRB, in which 73 per cent of parents either disagreed or had no opinion on advertising being the main cause of obesity in children. As for the effectiveness of a 9pm watershed on HFSS foods, questions have been raised from some quarters about how effective that would actually be in the current era of video on demand. New technology allows viewers to watch any programme they wish, at any time of the day or night. The UK government announced a major £372m programme to combat obesity in the country in January, with measures including partnering with the food industry to develop and market healthier food, encouraging physical activity, and education of adults and children. A key feature of the obesity strategy is the Healthy Food Code of Practice, which includes a proposal for the adoption of one simple and consistent nutritional labelling scheme for all foods. This would bring an end to controversy over whether the traffic light scheme, guidance daily amount scheme or a combination of the two, is best. The code will also lay down a challenge to industry (not just food manufacturers, but also restaurants and other food outlets) to support individuals and families reduce consumption of saturated fat, sugar and salt. According to statistics from the UK Department of Health for 2006/7, in school year one (aged four to five), 22.9 per cent of children were seen to be overweight or obese. By comparison, in year six (aged ten to 11) 31.6 per cent were seen to be overweight.

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