Industry opposes food ad restrictions

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Children, Nutrition, Obesity

A bill banning all food and drink advertising to children under 13
could heavily restrict marketing strategies for manufacturers
without actually helping curb childhood obesity, say industry

The private members bill for Ontario - called the Consumer Protection Amendment Act (Advertising Food or Drink) - was put forward yesterday by the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada as an attempt to put a stop to the spiraling numbers of children who are overweight or obese. It is based on a model that has been in place in Quebec for 25 years, and echoes similar efforts that are currently being made across America and Europe to encourage children to follow healthy lifestyles. The bill comes just a month after health officials in Canada openly urged the government to take action to ban the advertising of junk food to children, saying that self regulation by the industry was insufficient. However, the Concerned Children's Advertisers (CCA), which was set up by 16 major food and beverage companies, has criticized the bill, saying such actions do not prevent children from choosing junk food, and strict regulation that is currently in place is sufficient. "Many food companies have tried to help children make healthy food choices through adhering to existing framework and a voluntary code,"​ executive director Diana Carradine told Criticism of the bill ​Advertising bans do not actually help children to maintain healthy weights, according to the CCA. It said that since a similar bill was brought forward in Quebec, the combined childhood overweight and obesity rate has more than doubled, from 11.5 percent in 1981 to 23 percent in 2004. Similarly, in Sweden, where a ban on advertising was established in 1987, obesity rates have risen from 7.6 percent then to 20 percent in 2001. At the same time, the CCA said that food and beverage advertising to children has decreased. Carradine said: "No cause and effect or link has been determined between food advertising and obesity."​ Another area that has evoked strong criticism is the fact that the bill is currently aimed at all foods, not just junk food. Carradine said: "The bill expects children to live in a bubble, but they should be able to make their own choices about the food they eat." ​ Furthermore, this would have a substantial effect on the food companies that rely on advertising their brands to families.​ Lastly, there has been criticism on the logistics of the ban, as no clear method is currently laid out on how to prevent children seeing the advertisements through the internet and digital television, which make such restrictions difficult to achieve. The CCA maintains voluntary action made by manufacturers is sufficient. In fact, the children's advertisers have adopted a new code in which some members have agreed to stop making commercials aimed at children, that cartoon characters will no longer be used to promote fast foods, and companies will use ads to promote healthier food choices and a more active lifestyle. Meanwhile, major global food companies signed a pledge in December to stop advertising 'junk' food to children under 12 in Europe, in an effort to self-regulate and avoid a ban being imposed by the European Commission. International ad bans ​As well as advertising bans already implemented in Quebec and Sweden, the UK has begun phasing in restrictions on advertising junk food to children. The first phase of the restrictions, relating to advertising of high fat, sugar and salt foods around programs aimed at the under-10s came into force last April. The second stage, prohibiting such advertisements in or around programs made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programs that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to 15, came into force on January 1. The International Obesity Taskforce (IOTF) and Consumers International have jointly developed the International Code on Marketing of Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages to Children​, which they plan to present to the World Health Assembly this month.

Related topics: Regulation

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