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June 16, 2006

Junk Food Advertising

A ban on the advertising of "junk" food appears to be getting ever closer.

Controls on junk food advertising could be extended to websites, text messaging, computer games, cinemas and posters under radical plans being drawn up by the government, the Guardian has learned.

Ministers fear that plans to clamp down solely on TV advertising would be undermined without a more ambitious approach and are putting together a range of measures to tackle the problem.

The bit about all of this that terribly confuses me is that we are eating far fewer calories than our ancestors did a century ago. So it isn’t the amount of food going in that is the problem: it’s the amount being used as we go about our lives that has fallen faster. Yes, things like sport and so on have declined, so has walking to school etc etc.

But I’d (on little evidence, I admit) point to the biggest difference being central heating. The fact that just about every house now has it, while 50 (perhaps 70?) years ago almost none did. We used to burn off the calories simply trying to stay warm.

My only piece of data (yes, an anecdote is indeed data, but perhaps not information) is comparing the calorie intake of those I know from the west of Ireland with the English of the same generation. They eat vastly more (and don’t seem to be any larger) and as far as I’m aware central heating became commonplace in those areas a generation later than it did in England.

Weird theory but it’s all mine and I’m proud of it.

The public health minister, Caroline Flint,[...] She said it was possible to build a nutrient profile of food products to determine whether they should be deemed damaging to health and banned from TV or other forms of advertising.

And that isn’t going to be easy, not in the least. Measure by fat content? Oops, there goes advertising foie gras. By salt? That’s bacalahau (salt cod) banned from the airwaves.

"I know junk food when I see it" isn’t good enough as a measure in law. So just how would anyone define it?

June 16, 2006 in Health Nazis | Permalink


The likes of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons or your local chippy don't advertise on TV anyway. A TV ban would only affect large (American) chains. Which is the point of course.

Posted by: Mike Davies | Jun 16, 2006 10:53:23 AM

Spot On! Calories burnt off has fallen slower than calories eaten.

The government, if it wanted to actually do something useful could:-

a/ Scrap the NHS which financially incentivises ill-health.
b/ Instead subsidise insurance UPTO the healthy level for sex and age.
c/ Not charge VAT on Gyms.

Posted by: AntiCitizenOne | Jun 16, 2006 10:54:06 AM

Here's a radical idea. Instead of knee-jerk ad bans, why don't we look at things that might be connected with obesity - such as, oh, I dunno, the mass sell-off of school- and council-owned sports fields to developers?

Posted by: Gary Marshall | Jun 16, 2006 4:36:38 PM

Apologies if this comment is a tad long but I'm steamed up on this and so I can’t hold back!

I've been taking the time today to read the Ofcom consultation on this (still wading through it all), particularly the impact analysis and I think that the FSA/Department of Health has been relying on wishful thinking rather than good analysis in preparing the estimates of the benefits of the ban proposals (the ones that the FSA doesn't think go far enough)

In essence, it seems that FSA/DH assume that banning tv food adverts will magically mean that children have better diets and then they use two techniques to turn this into a money value. For their base case they assume (a) this magic will only be 10% effective (b) all sorts of assumptions about whether obese children become obese adults and the like and (c) there is only 50% migration

But what all this ignores is that the estimates of the impact of tv advertising on childhood obesity are modest (2% for direct effects, not known but larger for indirect effects).

So their whole analysis should be scaled down!

I don't know what it should be scaled down to but as a floor estimate it should perhaps be 2% of their estimates (or to be generous to them get rid of the assumption that the programme is only 10% successful and assume its only 2% successful).

In any case the benefits would not be anywhere near those cited.

To take one example of the ludicrous nature of all this - they assume 50,000 lives saved but 30,000 of these lives saved come from kids eating more fruit (and having less cancer). Do you really think banning tv food advertising to children would mean to a switch over from confectionary to fruit? I don't.

Posted by: stephen c | Jun 16, 2006 5:35:25 PM