Aileen Campbell said she was “surprised and disappointed” by the UK’s less than ambitious childhood obesity strategy, published last week. The lack of new regulations in relation to marketing unhealthy food and drink is a particular concern.
“We have long argued that a ban up to the 9pm watershed would greatly reduce children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods,” she said. “I am therefore calling on the UK government to rethink its position on this policy, or failing that devolve these powers to the Scottish Parliament so we can take appropriate steps to benefit Scotland’s public health.”
Campbell pointed out that Public Health England (PHE) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS), as well as the Irish and Welsh government, have recommended the measures.
Scottish ministers have long been keen on the 9pm watershed – and it’s likely they would want to include it in the new obesity strategy they are planning. By 2030, 40% of Scottish population will be obese, according to projections based on current rates.
FSS hinted last week that it would be looking very closely at advertising bans and taxes on unhealthy ingredients in its role as lead agency on diets. The board’s view is that a raft of alternative, more radical measures and interventions must be considered.
Meanwhile, PHE’s top two recommendations in its report on sugar reduction last October were to reduced and rebalance the number and type of price promotions in all retail outlets and to significantly cut the opportunities to market and advertise high sugar products.
However, the UK’s new childhood obesity strategy makes no mention of the expected restrictions. Critics said the omission was “inexcusable”.
Research conducted by Ipsos-Mori in November 2015 showed that junk food dominates the marketing landscape in Scotland. Less than 10% of marketing is for healthy products, the researchers concluded.
An analysis by consumer group Which? earlier this month found that 53% of supermarket promotions were for unhealthy foods. Almost one in three (28%) also wanted more promotions on healthy food. Previous research, carried out by FSS, has shown that 54% of adults in Scotland claimed to be happy with the idea of unhealthy foods being taxed in order to decrease the price of healthy foods.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the regulator responsible for broadcast and non-broadcast media in the UK, said the country already had “some of the toughest” restrictions on food and drink regulations in Europe, including “strict rules on the advertising of food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt”.
Earlier this year, the Committees of Advertising Practice, the body that writes the advertising codes, launched a consultation on the advertising of HFSS food and drinks aimed at children in non-broadcast media to “bring those restrictions into line with TV”, the ASA noted. The outcome of the consultation will be published by the end of this year.