As part of its effort to halve childhood obesity by 2030, in particular in deprived areas, the government yesterday launched a public consultation on plans to introduce a 9pm watershed on TV and online adverts for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).
The government cited evidence suggesting that children from low socio-economic groups are less likely to be aware of sponsored links on digital advertising, and that less affluent viewers are exposed to more HFSS food advertising on broadcast TV compared to the wealthiest viewers.
Still stuck in Brexit logjam
But the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it was refusing to respond to the consultation. It said the new consultation is an ‘insult’ to an industry already busy spending large sums of money preparing for possible disruption caused by Brexit.
“It suggests that the Department of Health and Social Care has failed to notice that the UK is still not out of the Brexit logjam, nor that food and drink companies are battling to ensure the nation is fed,” said chief operating officer Tim Rycroft.
“Until a delay to the 29 March withdrawal date is agreed by the UK and EU, and Parliament removes that date from the Withdrawal Act, manufacturers will have a total focus on averting the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit, avoiding food shortages and keeping prices rises to a minimum.”
Child obesity and its links to advertising is a “serious and important matter”, said Rycroft. But he pointed out that the consultation has already been delayed by two months. What’s more, he added that the FDF has been advised by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that no-deal planning must take precedence over other matters.
“It could and should have been delayed until a no-deal Brexit was completely out of the question. Unless there is a material change to Brexit prospects, FDF will not be responding.”
‘A longer-term strategy is needed’
Many commentators also question how an evening curfew on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter would be enforceable. And while the government said the proposed ban will not include adverts for staple foods such as butter, olive oil or meat, there is still confusion at what will constitute HFSS foods. Ofcom’s definition, for example, includes raisins, hummus, olive bread, margarine, salami, cheese or fruit juice.
Some say the plans don’t go far enough, however. Similar bans on alcohol and cigarette advertising, for instance, have ensured that young people today drink and smoke less than older generations.
Registered nutritionist Kawther Hashem, a campaign Lead at Action on Sugar based at Queen Mary University of London, said it was vital that only non-HFSS foods and drinks can be marketed and promoted to children on all forms of media.
“Cigarette advertising has been banned in the UK for many years because it causes cancer and cardiovascular disease, yet HFSS foods and drinks, which are now a bigger cause of death and disability, can be advertised without strong restrictions to vulnerable children. A similar longer term strategy needs to be implemented.”