Most adults support a ban on advertising unhealthy food to children – poll

The Obesity Health Alliance said it was deeply concerned about the growing problem of excess weight.

Jane Kirby
Tuesday 23 May 2023 00:01 BST
A poll shows more action is needed on obesity (Chris Radburn/PA)
A poll shows more action is needed on obesity (Chris Radburn/PA)

Eight out of 10 adults support a ban on advertising unhealthy food to children on TV and online, new research for the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) suggests.

The collection of charities and health organisations, which includes the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Association of Directors of Public Health, Diabetes UK, Cancer Research UK, the British Medical Association and the Faculty of Public Health, is calling on the Government to increase its commitment to tackling obesity.

In December, the Government announced that it was delaying a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm, to the dismay of health and obesity campaigners.

The new YouGov survey of more than 2,000 people for the Obesity Health Alliance found 79% support a TV ban of unhealthy food to children while 81% said the same about online.

The poll also found 68% would support food firms being taxed for unhealthy foods if the money was spent on children’s health programmes.

Similarly, 79% think the Government should be doing more to make sure healthy food is affordable during the cost-of-living crisis, while 77% think the cash raised by the current sugar tax on soft drinks should be used directly to fund programmes aimed at improving children’s health.

The OHA said it is “deeply concerned” that unless bold action is taken, health inequalities across the UK will continue to grow and obesity will “pile” even more pressure on the NHS.

It is set to present MPs from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats with manifesto letters for the next general election, saying there is a “massive opportunity” to protect child health.

More results from the poll showed that 60% of adults think advertising unhealthy food impacts on how much people buy, while 58% would support their local council using planning laws to reduce the number of unhealthy food outlets in their local area.

Meanwhile, 64% would like their local council to be able to restrict unhealthy food and drink advertising in outdoor areas and 76% would support their council’s ability to restrict unhealthy food and drink advertising near places children gather, such as schools and playgrounds.

Katharine Jenner, director of the OHA, said: “Today we have written to the potential next prime minister of the country with a simple request to put children’s health first, address Britain’s obesity crisis and redesign a broken food system that puts profit before health.

As medical professionals, we can see first-hand the devastating effect that obesity is having on both the child and adult population in the UK

Professor David Strain, British Medical Association

“Luckily, there are already policies such as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy that has proven to be effective so all that is required now is to build on this success.

“As individuals we deserve to have more control over the food and drink that’s available and marketed to us and the next government should lead on child health”.

British Medical Association board of science chairman, Professor David Strain, said: “As medical professionals, we can see first-hand the devastating effect that obesity is having on both the child and adult population in the UK.

“The serious risk of illnesses associated with obesity including cancer, heart disease and diabetes highlights just how life-threatening it can be.

“Any future prime minister and government must understand the importance of implementing laws and restrictions on the junk food industry that effectively curbs the population’s exposure to the advertising and marketing behind many unhealthy food choices impacting their health.”

Ben Reynolds, of food and farming charity Sustain, said: “It should be easy for everyone to eat healthily, especially children, but it isn’t.

“Our country is flooded with cheap, unhealthy, heavily processed food.

“If it really was as simple as ‘eat less and move more’ we wouldn’t have a dietary health crisis.

“The public are crystal clear in their appetite for Government intervention to redesign the food system to put health first.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Obesity costs the NHS around £6.5 billion a year and is the second biggest cause of cancer, which is why we’re taking firm action to support our ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

“We have introduced restrictions on where unhealthy food is placed in supermarkets, calorie labelling on menus, and we are working closely with industry to make it easier for people to make healthy food choices. We also recently announced £20 million to trial new obesity treatments and technologies.

“We will introduce restrictions banning adverts on TV for foods and drinks high in fat, salt, or sugar before 9pm, as well as paid-for adverts online.”

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