The advertising industry was urged yesterday to use its "creativity" to persuade children to trade crisps and chocolate bars for apples and oranges as ministers warned that obesity kills around 30,000 people a year.
Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, said advertising messages stressing the benefits of healthy eating could have a greater effect than "all the well-meaning government campaigns put together". But she angered consumer groups by rejecting their calls for an immediate ban on junk food advertising on television.
Ms Jowell called on the advertising industry to promote a balanced diet, and said they needed to demonstrate "that advertising need not be an adversary of those who want a healthier Britain".
"Put your produces in a context of healthy eating and living. Find more and ingenious ways to help people find a balance," she said. "I know you're the people who made condoms sexy in the 1980s and 1990s, who have revolutionised the public taste for new foods from every part of the world. You can make more of a difference than all the well-meaning government campaigns put together."
Her call came as the Government launched a consultation document on policies to improve public health, including cutting smoking and reducing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. It follows the publication of the Wanless report on public health which found that obesity is increasing steadily in Britain among children - 15 per cent of 15-year-olds were obese in 2001. Yesterday more than a hundred organisations, including the British Heart Foundation and the Children's Society, joined forces to call for a ban on the advertising and promotion of "junk" food to children. They believe that a diet high in fat, salt and sugar is damaging children's health and have sent a report, with a call for a ban, to the Prime Minister and Ms Jowell.
Sustain, a lobby group which campaigns for better food and farming and organised the protests, said the food industry had proved itself incapable of acting in a socially responsible way. "Huge profits are at stake, so we don't believe that they will voluntarily stop promoting junk foods to kids," said a spokesman. "For the sake of children's health, statutory controls are urgently required."
Ms Jowell said that a complete ban on junk food advertising might not prove the answer to tackling childhood obesity. But she warned that if advertisers failed to promote a balanced lifestyle and continued to push fattening and unhealthy food for children a ban could be introduced as a final resort.
"I do believe firm action is occasionally necessary," she said. "The classic example is tobacco. We banned tobacco advertising for a specific reason: it is a uniquely dangerous substance responsible for millions of deaths in recent years. But children's food, for example, is quite a different animal. What worked in one area won't necessarily work in another."
Ms Jowell has already indicated that she thought the code on advertising on food and drink was inadequate and has asked Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, to review it.
* McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food company, which has suffered from criticism of its fatty foods, announced yesterday it would eliminate Supersize french fries and soft drinks by the end of the year.
THE BIG SELL: HOW TO MARKET FRUIT
THE PEAR: PITCH BY EURO RSCG LONDON
Slogan: The Mad Upside-down World of the Upturned Pear
"We would create an animated character called 'the upturned pear', commission an author to write a book called The Mad Upside-down World of the Upturned Pear and sell it as cult reading for children. The character would have its own TV programme, stickers for lunch boxes and a food range."
BLACKCURRANTS: PITCH BY GREY LONDON
Slogan: The Blackcurrant Manifesto
"This would not follow the rules of a conventional advertising campaign. It would be underground and would work against everything in Britain that is bland and colourless. The Blackcurrant Manifesto, which would encourage people across Britain to stop being tame and colourless and start getting wild, would be fly-postered up in urban areas."
THE BANANA: PITCH BY KARMARAMA
Slogan: Jim Chimp Eats Bananas
"The campaign would feature a very hip, with-it chimp called Jim, a chimpanzee who is very articulate, speaks English, French and German, is dating Charlize Theron, is ahead of the game in terms of fashion, is very smart with tax loopholes, is writing a book, can play guitar and tells very funny jokes. An all-round aspirational primate, Jim Chimp eats bananas."Reuse content