Ad bans make no impact on obesity

28th May 2004 at 01:00
The article by Joanna Blythman (TES, April 30) and a letter from Jenny Jones, deputy mayor of London (TES, May 7), both supported "a ban on junk food advertising" to children so I feel obliged to respond on behalf of our membership.

Ms Blythman refers to a ban on food advertising to children as a forward-thinking, public health measure. In fact, experience has shown that banning food advertising to children has little overall effect on their weight. Sweden and Quebec have had bans on TV advertising to children for around 20 years, but this has had no discernible impact on the levels of obesity.

As a matter of accuracy, Finland does not have a ban on food advertising to children (as implied by Ms Blythman), and in general has more lenient advertising regulations than the UK.

Indeed, advertising regulations in the UK are among the strictest in the world. For example, advertisers are not allowed to communicate excessive consumption or frequency; snacks cannot be portrayed as main meal substitutes; and showing snacking pre-bedtime is forbidden. These codes are mandatory, strictly adhered to by the industry and currently under review.

As a matter of interest, Finland has been more successful at improving health than Sweden. Through a series of other community-based and national activities including improving school food, public education campaigns and increasing activity, the Finns have had real success in lowering coronary heart disease and tackling obesity.

The comparison between Finland and Sweden highlights an important point - that focusing on food advertising bans (or other short-term responses) as a means of solving obesity or improving health would be fruitless.

We would urge all those genuinely interested in improving diets and tackling obesity to support initiatives that are proven to be effective. As shown by Finland, using advertising as an ally rather than an adversary can be highly beneficial.

Jeremy Preston Director Food advertising unit The Advertising Association London SW1.

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