Limiting HFSS advertising to children is a no-brainer. The industry is dragging its feet | Comment and opinion


In 2020, a report from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge clearly indicated the need for strict regulations regarding the advertising and marketing of HFSS foods.

The research team modeled the impact of reducing HFSS advertising by correlating children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising with children’s height and weight. The results were inspiring – and I do commercials aimed at children for a living.

The data revealed that if all unhealthy TV adverts between 5.30am and 9pm were banned, children in the UK would see, on average, 1.5 fewer HFSS adverts per day. This would reduce the number of obese children by 4.6% and those who are overweight (including obesity) by 3.6%, which equates to 40,000 fewer obese children and 120,000 fewer overweight children.

That’s 160,000 healthier children. The report went on to explain how the benefits would result in savings of £7.4billion for today’s children throughout their lives. We are talking about physical and mental well-being, avoidance of bone and muscle problems as well as respiratory diseases such as asthma.

So why have certain players in the food industry and the advertising industry, as well as their countless professional advocacy bodies, lobbied so hard against this fundamental pillar of the anti-obesity strategy? So hard that the government kicked him out? The answer, of course, is cash and knocking and stumbling. Business is business after all. But what we are talking about here are the lives of our children. It is serious.

During the election campaign, Prime Minister Truss repeatedly said that people wanted the government to deal with issues such as transport, utilities, broadband and reducing NHS waiting lists , rather than “telling them what to eat”. Yes, Liz, they do. But that misses the point. A pretty good way to reduce those NHS waiting lists would be to ensure that 160,000 children don’t become obese as a direct result of HFSS advertising and promotion.

I don’t care if adults eat too many bad things – it’s entirely up to them. I want to make sure we all support the healthy development of our children.

Things are about to get worse. The postponement of the HFSS ban on advertisements, online spending and impulsive promotions is the tip of the spear that is about to confuse the health of our children. The rest is even scarier.

If and when these regulations go into effect, brands and agencies will still be able to use platforms like Twitch, TikTok, YouTube, and Roblox to create immersive, experiential communications that are infinitely more powerful at generating recalls and requests than a passive 30-second spot.

There is no “watershed line” in the wonderful world of Web3 and the metaverse. It’s still the Wild West. So instead of pontificating on a law that is already 18 months out of date, perhaps the government should act rather than do nothing.

The way through is actually a rephrasing. I was part of the team that developed and launched Kellogg’s Multi-Grain Shapes nearly 20 years ago. If it could be done then, it can be done now. McVitie’s, Kellogg’s and Premier Foods are all leading the reformulation charge and enjoying considerable success. Britvic also now has a 90% compliant product portfolio.

I know it’s difficult. But it must be done.

Brands should follow some of Queen Elizabeth II’s advice. When Jacinda Ardern asked Her Majesty for advice on caring for children and running the country, the Queen replied: “Go ahead.”


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