Ad Association accuses government of banning online HFSS ads because they’re ‘strapped for funds’ to tackle obesity

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Children are being bombarded with 500 online junk food adverts every second, according to a report by Bite Back 2030, a charity backed by Jamie Oliver, which is being presented to MPs today — just as the government is preparing to publish its consultation into banning online junk food ads.

The Advertising Association has retaliated quickly by protesting that banning online ads would be an ineffective move, chosen because it’s a cheap fix when the Government should be tackling the social inequality that gives rise to obesity.

The AA argues that the government’s own research says that a total online ban will reduce a child’s calorie intake by just 2.84 calories a day – although this figure reflects the effect of displacing the advertising to other media, rather than banning it altogether.

Bite Back 2030 warns about the influence of popular stars including Katy Perry and Lewis Capaldi who do deals with big brands like Coke and McDonald’s, which they then promote to their young social media followers. McDonald’s put on an “I’m Lovin’ It Live” series of online concerts in October featuring artists including Capaldi (above), Stormzy, Olly Murs, Craig David and Jess Glynne.

Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says in the report: “Tuned into their screens, these young people are like sitting ducks for the junk food marketers. And it’s only got worse during the lockdowns. Online junk food advertising has got out of hand.”

Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association, said: “a recent academic study showed that over the last 30 years, UK Governments of both parties have proposed 689 policies to tackle obesity in England. Despite this, rates of obesity have not decreased, they have grown. Instead of imposing yet another ineffective and doomed-to-fail measure, the Government should look at initiatives which have been shown to work, by tackling inequalities and working among those deprived and socially excluded communities most at risk from obesity.

“But this takes investment and, with Government strapped for funds, it may not seem the most attractive option. Nevertheless, in the long term, it will have far more benefit and positive effect than quick, but myopic, measures that garner headlines at the expense of both sense and sound economic argument.”

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