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27/01/04 . by Claire Cozens . Guardian . UK
Pressure grows for curbs on junk food ads
Pressure is mounting on the government to introduce greater restrictions on advertising junk food to children, after research showed more than eight out of 10 people believe existing controls are not enough.
Despite the growing levels of childhood obesity, the government has so far resisted a ban on food advertising aimed at children.
But a survey published today shows 85% of Britons believe there should be greater controls on the way fast foods are promoted to children.
And almost as many - 82% - said celebrity endorsements such as Gary Lineker's long-running contract with Walkers Crisps have considerable influence on children's choice of foods.
The survey comes after Coca-Cola gave in to pressure and announced it was removing its advertising from 4,000 vending machines in 1,500 schools up and down the country.
Although the survey, commissioned by food industry watchdog the Food Standards Agency, found the majority of people believe parents should take responsibility for their children's diets, they argued that parents' efforts to control what their children eat were hampered by marketing.
Celebrity endorsement deals could be banned under new proposals being considered by the FSA, which has launched a consultation on solutions to childhood obesity.
"The rising level of obesity in children is worrying to us all, not least to the parents of those children. Doing nothing is not an option but reversing the trend is a huge task and one in which we all have a role to play," said the FSA chairman, Sir John Krebs.
"The British public recognise the role that parents must play in improving the diets and health of their children. But it is also clear from our poll that they can't do it on their own - they need support from schools, industry, broadcasters and government if they are to make a difference."
Research recently published by the FSA concluded that advertising does have an effect on children's food choices.
Obesity among six-year-olds has doubled in recent years to 8.5%, and trebled to 15% among 15-year-olds, leading to growing public pressure to crack down on the junk food industry.
But the government is reluctant to ban food advertising aimed at children and the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, said recently she would prefer to work with the food industry to promote healthier eating.
The poll, carried out among 2,000 adults across the UK by market researchers RSGB Omnibus earlier this month, asked who, in order of importance, should take responsibility for improving children's diets.
Almost nine out of 10 of those questioned thought the main responsibility lay with parents.
Schools were seen as having the second biggest role, followed by food manufacturers in third place and broadcasters fourth.