The UK ad industry has splattered a new report which claims to have unearthed fresh evidence that online junk food ads are the work of the Devil, insisting the Government should tackle the societal issues which lead to obesity and not batter brands with another advertising ban.
Among the claims in the Bite Back 2030 report, from a charity backed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, is that during the pandemic kids have been bombarded with 500 ads per second online for food and drink brands high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).
It claims that Instagram and Facebook endorsements of brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s by singers Katy Perry and Lewis Capaldi can reach almost 500,000 kids. Meanwhile more than 250,000 UK children on Facebook have expressed an interest in junk food simply by pressing the “like” button on their profiles and are likely to be targeted more often by food companies.
A Downing Street source told The Sunday Times: “We are expecting a ban on online junk food advertising to be announced imminently. There will be caveats – this is not aimed at small companies advertising home-made cakes. It is aimed at the food giants.”
In November, more than 800 food and drink manufacturers – including Unilever, Mars, Britvic, Kellogg’s and Associated British Foods – joined the fight against plans to ban all online advertising for HFFS brands, claiming the proposal was “disproportionate” and that targeting tools could easily assuage concerns.
The companies, which between them own more than 3,000 UK brands, insisted they have not been given enough time to submit detailed objections. The Government first mooted it would banish ads for HFSS brands in August 2019, and then again in July last year.
In response to the Bite Back 2030 report and the imminent Government announcement, Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford said: “Existing rules governing the advertising of food and drink high in fat salt and sugar online and on TV are already among the strictest in the world and mean that children are exposed to very little of this type of advertising.
“According to the Government’s very own research, the total online ban will reduce a child’s calorie intake by just 2.84 calories a day while the pre-9pm TV ban will lower it by 1.7 calories a day. Both are negligible amounts – the equivalent to eating about two-thirds of a Smartie or walking for 25 seconds.”
Woodford points to a recent academic study, which showed that over the past 30 years, British Governments of both parties have proposed 689 policies to tackle obesity in England. Despite this, rates of obesity have not decreased, they have grown.
He added: “Instead of imposing yet another ineffective and doomed-to-fail measure, the Government should look at initiatives which have been shown to work, by tackling inequalities and working among those deprived and socially excluded communities most at risk from obesity.
“But this takes investment and, with Government strapped for funds, it may not seem the most attractive option. Nevertheless, in the long term, it will have far more benefit and positive effect than quick, but myopic, measures that garner headlines at the expense of both sense and sound economic argument.”
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