Action on obesity is a valuable investment

Junk food marketing is undermining parents' efforts. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Junk food marketing is undermining parents' efforts. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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Junk food advertising must be curtailed, says Marjory Burns

On AVERAGE, our children are spending 33.7 hours a week watching television, logging on to the internet and listening to the radio. That’s nearly five hours a day. And during those five hours, young people are being exposed to clever and persuasive junk food marketing.

While junk food advertising is banned from children’s programming, it’s saturating primetime TV that our kids are watching.

Our analysis of over 750 adverts found that nearly one in four TV ads, shown between 8 and 9pm, were for food and viewers were seeing as many as 11 junk food ads per hour, of which an average of six were for unhealthy food or brands associated with junk food.

Not only that, the clips seemed designed for a young audience. Nearly a third of food adverts shown between 8 and 9pm used “fun” to push products, rather than more adult concerns such as price or convenience. And 53 per cent used children or child-aged characters to push their fare.

In a country where three in ten children – and three in five Scots aged 16 and over – are overweight or obese, this insidious promotion of unhealthy food, often while kids are playing computer games and entering competitions, is totally unacceptable. Our kids don’t need it.

The British Heart Foundation is part of an alliance of concerned organisations – Action on Junk Food Marketing – that is pressing the UK government and Ofcom to take action to protect children. We want to see ads for unhealthy food pushed back until after the 9pm watershed. This should be combined with consistent regulation online to stop children being bombarded with internet advertising.

Junk food marketing is undermining parents’ efforts to help their children lead a heart healthy lifestyle – and that’s why BHF Scotland is not only campaigning at the ‘top end’, but helping children and families tackle their weight and health issues by funding innovative projects in two parts of the country that have a poor heart health record.

The BHF’s Hearty Lives programme is spending £12 million across the UK to reduce heart health inequalities.

Hearty Lives Glasgow’s programme, Weigh to Go, is giving overweight young people, aged 16 to 18, the opportunity to get a bespoke weight loss plan and to enjoy physical activity free of charge. The weight loss part of the service is being provided by commercial organisations and participants are getting free gym membership to Glasgow Life’s Glasgow Club facilities for the duration of the programme.

We’ve provided £100,000 to fund the service, which is being managed by Glasgow City Community Health Partnership, and teens are initially given a 12-week programme of intensive support. They’re able to take advantage of 12 weeks’ more support if they can demonstrate they are using the supporting services.

At Hearty Lives Inverclyde, we’re also spending £100,000 on Weigh to Go. We’re working with Inverclyde Community Health and Care Partnership (CHCP) and the programme is being co-ordinated, designed and delivered by local organisations.

As in Glasgow, participants receive 12 weeks’ free access to Inverclyde Leisure facilities and a commercial weight management programme, with the option of a 12-week extension. There’s also additional support, centred around the young person, that they can choose to receive via, for example, text messages, phone calls or additional face to face meetings.

As part of Hearty Lives Dundee, to which we’ve committed £1.3m, we’re introducing families to exercise and healthy eating through the Active Families programme. It’s not a weight-loss programme – rather, health coaches deliver tailored support to families to encourage them to be active in their daily lives and to eat well. Each family has a dedicated co-ordinator who works with them to create a set of goals that outlines the support that family will need, either financial or practical.

This could involve arranging passes to their local gym, taking them swimming, organising sports-hall games, hiring bikes for them to try cycling and organising walks in local parks.

One mother told me that, since being introduced to Active Families, she’s been amazed at the difference in her six-year old and three-year old’s self-confidence. They’ve learned to swim and she says they’re more active as a family and having more fun together.

The whole-family approach means they are more likely to maintain healthy eating and exercise habits.

Not only are we helping our young people to avoid becoming overweight and obese adults, we are equipping them with resources that will help a future generation avoid the same plight.

BHF Scotland is fighting for every heartbeat. You can help by fundraising and by signing our petition.

• Marjory Burns is Director of British Heart Foundation Scotland


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