MPs call for ban on use of cartoons to promote unhealthy food

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Adverts using cartoon characters like Tony the Tiger and the Milky Bar Kid to target youngsters with unhealthy food should be banned in an effort to reverse shocking rates of childhood obesity, say a leading group of MPs.

The Health and Social Care Select Committee has called for a blanket ban on “brand-generated characters or licensed TV and film characters” which are used to promote foods high in fat, sugar or salt on television and advertising hoardings. But characters such as the Jolly Green Giant could continue to be used to promote vegetables.

‘Peddle rubbish’

When TV chef and campaigner, Jamie Oliver gave evidence to the committee he said that cartoons and superheroes should not be used to “peddle rubbish”.

Instead they should be used to promote healthy foods, he added.

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The MPs are urging the Government to take action on advertisements when it produces its next chapter of its childhood obesity plan.

Among their recommendations is a ban on junk food ads before the 9pm TV watershed.

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Supermarkets should also be forced to remove confectionery and other unhealthy snacks from the ends of aisles and checkouts.

And junk food price promotions, such as multi-buy discounts and “extra free” promotions, should be restricted, the MPs added.

High fat products

The Government should also give local authorities more powers to “limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas”.

This could mean councils able to limit junk food and drink billboard advertising near schools.

The raft of recommendations come in the committee’s latest report into childhood obesity.

According to official figures, a third of children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. The MPs also called on the the Government to end sponsorship deals by brands overwhelmingly associated with high fat, sugar and salt products of sports clubs, venues, youth leagues and tournaments.

‘Unacceptable health inequality’

Meanwhile, social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube should reduce children’s exposure to inappropriate advertising and marketing, including advergames, they said.

“Children are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer,” said Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP and chairwoman of the committee.

“Obesity rates are highest for children from the most disadvantaged communities and this unacceptable health inequality has widened every year since records began.

“The consequences for these children are appalling and this can no longer be ignored.”

Complex problem

Dr Modi Mwatsama of the Obesity Health Alliance, said: “The ban on junk food advertising prior to the 9pm watershed is a much-needed measure, as is toughening up on promotions and the marketing of unhealthy food at children.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Childhood obesity is a complex problem, decades in the making.

“That’s why we have the most ambitious plan in the world to tackle it, our sugar tax is funding school sports programmes and nutritious breakfasts for the poorest children, and we’re investing in further research into the links between obesity and inequality.”

Vehement defence

Local Government Association figures released earlier this week reveal that over 22,500 10 and 11-year-olds in England and Wales are now classed as being severely obese.

In a sign that the food and drink industry are likely to strenuously resist attempts to prevent them “putting the fun into food” by using popular brand characters, advertisers were quick to defend their lucrative business.

Commenting on the report, Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, said the UK has “among the strictest rules in the world” on advertising products that are high in fat, sugar and salt to under 16s.

‘There are no silver bullets’

“We remain of the view that measures such as a 9pm watershed would be ineffective in tackling the complex root causes of childhood obesity which are linked to a whole range of factors, including socio-economic background, ethnicity and educational attainment,” he said.

But Oliver offered a counter view, saying that tackling the issue would take an enormous effort and a great deal of political will.

“The Committee are absolutely right. There are no silver bullets,” said the celebrity chef.

‘The future of the NHS is at stake’

“The Government needs to launch a multi-pronged strategy that pulls every possible lever to help support better outcomes for our kids.

“In turn, we need to make healthier food cheaper and more easily available for parents. “Theresa May needs to own this now. The future of the NHS is at stake.” Character recall When Which? Magazine identified 19 cartoon characters in supermarkets, none of them were being used to market healthy food. The researchers found that Kraft’s Moo, the Dairylea Cow, was the worst offender because of the high fat and salt content of the cheese products.

It was closely followed by Intersnack’s Pom-Bear crisps that were high in saturated fat while Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger was cited because Frosties were one third sugar.

Film tie-ins Some characters like the Honey Monster were found in their survey to promote healthier products such as Honey Monster Honey Meltz, but the same character was also used in adverts for Sugar Puffs and Honey Monster Honey Waffles, which are not. The fast food industry is especially keen on film tie-ins, with Shrek, one of the most beloved of children’s cartoon characters, being used by McDonald’s and M&Ms to help sell its products.

This article originally featured on our sister site the i.