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Irish health groups demand clamp down on junk food ads

By Anthony Fletcher , 10-Jul-2006

The National Heart Alliance (NHA) and Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) have joined calls for tougher action on food marketing to kids.

At a presentation last week to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, both organisations strove to apply pressure on regulators over the issue of junk food advertising by emphasising the scale of the current obesity problem.

They demanded that the Children's Advertising Code should be amended in order to restrict advertising of unhealthy foods up to a 9pm watershed. This follows health campaign action in the UK, which has similarly attempted to change junk food marketing habits.

 

"In implementing the smoking ban Ireland showed that it can be courageous and take an international lead to implement good health promoting policy," said NHA chairman David Kennedy.

 

"There is an opportunity for the Irish Government to again show leadership in tackling obesity. We are highlighting some clear policy steps that can be taken to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy foods."

 

According to the NHA, research shows that food marketing does affect children's food preferences, purchase behaviour and consumption and increases the effect of 'pester power'.

 

The organisation claimed that food marketing to children across Europe is on a 'massive scale', with the majority of money spent on TV advertising. It cited a report from the US, which described "a chilling account of how marketing affects health".

 

The rate of childhood obesity in Ireland is higher than the European average with 1 in 5 children aged 5-12 years overweight, or obese, compared to 1 in 6 in Europe. The rate of childhood obesity in Ireland is growing each year and is linked to serious health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems.

 

Obesity, and childhood obesity in particular, is now widely accepted as a global problem. But many broadcasters argue that banning some food adverts aimed at children is not the solution. They suggest that any ban would be ineffective, and that children would still buy such foods.

 

Others have cited potential adverse effects on channels who generate their income from advertising. Christy Swords, ITV's director of regulatory affairs, recently said that such a ban would also threaten investment in programming by advertising-funded channels.

 

In the UK, revenues at risk from a pre-9pm watershed ban total £140.8m, equal to about 2.5 per cent of the broadcasters total income.

 

In addition to advertising restrictions, both the NHA and IHF have called on all schools, pre-schools and third level institutions to establish healthy food policies, with additional funding if necessary. The IHF in particular has called for increased funding for sports and PE equipment to help schools be less reliant on commercial funding.