2007 Archive

December 2007

New Bill in Parliament to protect children from junk food marketing

The campaign to protect children from junk food marketing moves into a new phase with the introduction into Parliament of the Food Products (Marketing to Children) Bill.

This Bill will not only introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food TV adverts, but also - for the first time in a Bill - introduce controls on all of the other ways of marketing unhealthy food to children.  Nigel Griffiths MP will introduce the Bill in the house of Commons and Baroness Thornton will introduce this Bill into the Lords at the same time.

If this Bill becomes law, it will ensure children are properly protected from junk food marketing.  However, it is certain to face strong opposition form advertisers and some in the food industry.

This means we need your help to make the Bill law.  There are three things you can do:

1. Ask your MP to support the Bill by signing Early Day Motion (EDM) 445 and attend its second reading on 25 April.  You can do this via the website: http://www.writetothem.com/.  EDMs are a way for MPs to demonstrate their support for an issue and the number of signatures they receive is a powerful signal to the Government.  Due to arcane Parliamentary rules, we need at least 100 MPs to attend the Second reading for the Bill to progress  You may wish to make the following points in your letter:

  • There is a crisis in children’s dietary health
  • That the marketing of unhealthy food is a key cause of this crisis
  • That this Bill will comprehensively protect children from junk food marketing.
  • Please support the Bill, sign EDM 445 and attend its second reading on 25 April, 2008.

2. We need to show support for the Bill at the highest levels of Government.  Therefore please tell Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Alan Johnson (Secretary of State for Health) and Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families) of your support for the Food Products (Marketing to Children) Bill.
Contact Gordon Brown via: http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page821.asp.
Contact Alan Johnson at: johnsona@parliament.uk
Contact Ed Balls at: ed@edballs.com

Hopeful signs of shift in Government policy

There has been a noticeable shift in the Government’s tone on the issue of children’s health following the publication of the seminal Foresight Report into obesity (more details below).

For example, Alan Johnson said in the House of Commons in mid-October: “In my view the reason that advertising restrictions should go much further is that about 70 percent of children watch television programmes outside the traditional children viewing times.”

Last month, Government Health Spokesperson, Baroness Royall, said: “We believe that we must move forward, and we need a ban on all high-fat, salty and sugary foods before the 9pm watershed”

These are strong signals that the Government is moving towards the kind of controls we are calling for.  With one more push we will be able to get the protection from junk food advertising that our children deserve.

New research strengthens case for better children’s food

The results of two major research projects have been published in the last few months, which both starkly demonstrate the need to improve children’s diets.

The Foresight report on tackling obesity (www.foresight.gov.uk/Obesity/Outputs/Literature_Review/Literature_review.htm), published on October, is the biggest report ever published into the causes and consequences of the current obesity crisis. 

Media stories about the report concentrated on the dire predictions for the future:

  • More than half of adults being obese by 2050
  • Half of boys and almost a third of girls will be obese by 2050
  • By 2016 the number of obese children will overtake the number of children at a ‘healthy weight’.
  • Obesity will, on average, take 13 years off the life of sufferers.

But the report makes a range of other interesting points.  It asserts that, in the main, people do not choose to be obese and the rise in obesity can be put down to a wide range of factors in society from food marketing and the loss of cooking skills, to urban planning that encourages car use instead of walking and buildings designed to make it easier to use the lift not the stairs.  The report concludes we live in an ‘obesogenic environment” which encourages people to be overweight.

The second major report was a ten year long study by the World Cancer Research Fund (http://www.wcrf-uk.org/), which gives further evidence about the link between poor diet, obesity and cancer.  This is the largest ever analysis of the research into causes of cancer and will be very influential.

Other important recently published research includes:
The link between obesity and birth problems: http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSL0317891720071204
The Nuffield Council for Bioethics study into the ethical issues in public health: http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/go/ourwork/publichealth/introduction
American research into the long-term health consequences of childhood obesity: http://www.kansascity.com/105/story/391635.html

Number of children eating school meals

Finally, in October a row blew up about a perceived drop in the number of children eating meals in schools.  This is what we had to say about it: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/richard_watts/2007/10/cooking_up_a_storm.html


August 2007

Catching children in the web

Guardian journalist Helen Pidd has taken a fascinating look behind the scenes at advertisers attempts to use the internet and other new technology to target children with junk food marketing.  Read more at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2138123,00.html.

She found that companies are investing millions of pounds in establishing themselves in 'social networking' websites like BEBO and MySpace, which are widely used by children.

While it has become slightly harder (although not hard enough) to advertise junk food on television, there are no effective regulations governing how companies use the internet.  The rules governing marketing using other media aside from television, remain weak and largely not enforced.

The Children's Food Campaign will publish a report into this later in the year so watch this space!

Cartoon Heroes and Villains

More evidence of the almost total lack of protection for children from junk food marketing away from television has been provided by consumer group Which?.  The report, called 'Cartoon Heroes and Villains' (which can be found here: https://www.which.co.uk/files/application/pdf/CartoonHeroes&VilliansWEBFINAL-445-119206.pdf), highlights how cartoons are used to tempt children into buying unhealthy food.

Shrek, Spider-Man and even Winnie-the-Pooh were among the characters used to promote junk food to children.  The report also found that companies like Kelloggs and Haribo used their own characters, such as Tony the Tiger, to influence children to consumer their high-sugar products.

P.S. if you want to see how easy it is to licence characters to use in food marketing do have a look at the website of a company called Bon-Bon Buddies: http://www.bonbonbuddies.com/,

Children say food tastes better in a McDonalds wrapper

A story on CNN caught our eye this month:  http://edition.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/diet.fitness/08/06/mcdonalds.preschoolers.ap/index.html?eref=rss_topstories

Researchers from Stanford University in the USA have found new evidence of the power of advertising on the youngest children by discovering that children between three and five years old think that any food tastes better if it is put in a McDonalds wrapper.

Study author Dr. Tom Robinson said the kids' perception of taste was "physically altered by the branding." He went on to say it was remarkable how children so young were already so influenced by advertising:  "These results add evidence to support recommendations to regulate or ban advertising or marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, or all marketing, that is directed to young children."

Obesity can cause birth defects

Yet more evidence of the dramatic consequences of the current obesity crisis was published this month in the scientific journal, The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Scientists from the University of Texas found that the mothers of babies born with some structural birth defects-including missing limbs, malformed hearts and underdeveloped spinal cords-appear more likely to be obese before becoming pregnant than mothers whose children are born without such defects.

This research underlines the importance of getting to grips with the obesity crisis.  Children and mums-to-be need help not to become obese, rather than blamed when they do.  We have long argued that the Government can do more to protect children, and others for that matter, from the factors which lead to a bad diet, such as advertising for junk food and a lack of cookery skills.


July 2007

Campaign for 9pm watershed for junk food TV ads comes to Parliament

Regular readers will know we’ve been running a long campaign in favour of a 9pm watershed for junk food TV adverts.  The latest stage of this campaign took place on 8 June when the Television Advertising (food) Bill was debated in Parliament.

This bill, which introduces a comprehensive 9pm watershed for junk food television adverts, was debated for almost two hours in the House of Lords before being passed to go onto the next stage.

Before the debate, the Children’s Food Campaign arranged a meeting for supporters of the Bill in the House of Lords addressed by food writer and chef Sophie Grigson, Claire Phillips of 11 Million (the office of the Children’s Commissioner, children’s food campaigner Jackie Schneider and Baroness Thornton who introduced the Bill.

In the run-up to the debate we put together a letter to all MPs singed by over 50 organisations as well as leading chefs Raymond Blanc, Antony Worrell-Thompson, and Prue Leith.  As a result Harriet Harman, the new Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, pledged her support to the campaign.

At the same time, consumer group Which published research that shows how little change there has been in junk food TV advertising as a result of Ofcom’s weak new.  The research can be found here: http://www.which.co.uk/reports_and_campaigns/food_and_drink/campaigns/kids_food/index.jsp


Cooking in the curriculum

Alongside our work on junk food advertising and school food, we believe it is vital that all children leave school able to cook.  So we were disappointed that the Government has decided not to make cookery a compulsory part of the new curriculum for 11 to 14 year olds. 

However, real progress has been made.  Children studying food technology will have more practical food experience and all children will have the opportunity to learn to cook.  But we still think there is a danger that by making cookery lessons voluntary the hardest to reach children – who tend to have the most serious dietary health problems – will miss out.

By definition those who are unable to cook are relegated to a diet of processed and take away food.  So we will continue to press Government to update the curriculum so all children can learn this vital life skill.


Interesting Snippets

Cadburys fined £1 million for salmonella outbreak: Confectionery giant Cadbury has been fined £1m for food and hygiene offences over a salmonella outbreak in which more than 40 people fell ill: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/6900467.stm.

Screen Kids’ report: The National Consumer Council have just released a report [link to: http://www.ncc.org.uk/news_press/pr.php?recordID=345] on how children interact with television and the internet.

Additives research: A report published in The Food Magazine reveals that several preservatives and colourings, which are regularly used in food and drink products, are supposed to carry health warnings when used in medicines for human consumption: http://www.foodcomm.org.uk/additives_june07.htm

Parents might also find the Food Commission’s ‘Chew on This’ website useful:  http://www.chewonthis.org.uk/index.htm


And finally

McDonalds boss Jim Skinner has denied that Ronald McDonald is part of their marketing strategy telling Reuters news agency: "Ronald McDonald has never sold food to kids in the history of his existence".  So what does Ronald McDonald do then?

Parents will also be relieved to know that according to Mr Skinner: "(children) know they can count on us to help them as opposed to simply hawking food to them."

Read more at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/consumerproducts-SP/idUKN1636984920070717?rpc=401&feedType=RSS



May 2007

June 8: Second Reading of Food Advertising (Television) Bill

On 8 June, Baroness Thornton's Bill to introduce a 9pm watershed for junk food TV adverts in Parliament will be debated.

Protecting children from junk food advertising is a key demand of the Children's Food Campaign.  A 9pm watershed for junk food adverts is also supported by the vast majority of parents and expert groups. 

Thanks to your campaigning efforts, more than 220 MPs have now signed-up to support the Bill.  The last time MPs were asked to support such measures only 120 did so, which shows the progress we are making.

To celebrate the introduction of this Bill, we will be holding an event - addressed by celebrities, campaigners and parents - in the House of Lords on 8 June, between 9:30 and 10:45.  Campaign supporters are very welcome to attend this event.  Please email Richard Watts on Richard@sustainweb.org if you would like a ticket.

Tickets are strictly limited, non-transferable and will be given out on a first-come-first-served basis.  Please note that, because of security arrangements at the Palace of Westminster, people can only be admitted to the event with a ticket.

We now know that Gordon Brown MP will become Prime Minister at the end of the month.  Mr Brown is known to be sympathetic to our campaign and has already called for a voluntary 9pm watershed for junk food TV adverts.  Please email him at private.office@hm-treasury.gov.uk or via this website: http://www.gordonbrownforbritain.com/contact/ to ask him to attend the event on 8 June and support the vast majority of parents who support proper protection for children from junk food adverts. 

TV ads double children's junk food intake

This story in the Daily Mail has highlighted new research, which shows the strength of the link between junk food advertising and TV adverts:

The research from leading academics at Liverpool University shows that a high exposure to junk food adverts can double children's consumption of unhealthy food, with the worst effects being on children who are already overweight.

Lead researcher, Emma Boyland, said:  "Given the obesity epidemic among children, there is a clear case that we should be protecting them more.  I don't think Ofcom has gone far enough. Their restrictions only really cover programmes specifically aimed at children, not the programmes that are watched by more children than any others.  She continued: "It [Ofcom] needs to think about extending controls up to the 9pm watershed."

Dr Jason Halford, director of the Liverpool University's Kissileff Laboratory for the study of Human Ingestive Behaviour, said: "Our research confirms food TV advertising has a profound effect on all children's eating habits - doubling their consumption rate."

All the more reason to support Baroness Thornton's Bill.

Promoting junk food on-line

Many parents were outraged when research by the BBC pointed out the extent of junk food advertising aimed at children on-line.  This was heavily reported at the end of April.  To read more about this have a look at this excellent research by the consumer organisation Which?: https://www.which.co.uk/reports_and_campaigns/food_and_drink/campaigns/kids_food/food_industry_tricks/industry_marketing_tricks_campaigns_559_111547.jsp

Even more recently researchers at top American University, Berkley, published a new report about on-line food marketing aimed at children, which can be found here: http://www.digitalads.org/

Much on-line advertising of junk food is designed to stop parents knowing what their children see.  So do read these reports, as you may be surprised what you find.


April 2007

200 MPs sign-up to protect children from junk food ads – is yours one of them?

Thanks to lobbying by supporters of the Children’s Food Campaign over 200 Members of Parliament from all parties have signed up to support a 9pm watershed for junk food TV adverts.

You can check if your MP is one of them at: http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=32033&SESSION=885.  If you’re unsure you can find out who your MP is at: http://www.writetothem.com/

If not, please ask them to sign Early Day Motion 404 on food advertising to children.

This time last year 120 MPs signed up to this part of our campaign, and the rise to 200 supporters shows how much progress we are making.

We will win our campaign for a 9pm watershed if the Government is put under enough pressure from MPs, organisations and members of the public. 

Monitoring junk food adverts aimed at children

The first part of Ofcom’s rules to limit junk food advertising at children came into place (appropriately) on 1st April. 

These rules will stop advertising for junk food products during programmes on terrestrial channels (ITV, Channel Four and Five) watched by a large number of children aged below ten.  Restrictions on programmes on satellite and cable channels will come in later.  However they will only apply in programmes watched by a high proportion of children under the age of nine and are full of other loop holes.

We need your help to see if companies are sticking to these rules.  Please email us at childrensfoodcampaign@sustainweb.org if you see a TV advert for an unhealthy product and food brand in a programme aimed at children.  It would help us a great deal if you could let us know the date, and time of the advert, the programme and the channel it is broadcast on.

We will collate examples of adverts that might break the rules and use these to challenge the relevant companies.


Have you returned your postcard yet?

All supporters of the Children’s Food Campaign should have received a copy of the campaign postcard in the last few weeks.

The postcard, produced with the support of the British Heart Foundation, is a great way for you to contact your MP to ask them to sign-up to protect children form junk food advertising.

Please email us at childrensfoodcampaign@sustainweb.org if you have not received a postcard or if you want to distribute copies to friends, family or colleagues.  Anything you can do will make a difference.


Children’s food at theme parks

Supporters may be interested in this article from the Observer, which outlines concerns about the quality of children’s food at Theme Parks and other children’s entertainment venues: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2047493,00.html.


Protecting children from junk food adverts

New efforts are underway to protect children form junk food television adverts.

Disappointingly, TV regulator Ofcom has announced that they will slightly water down their already weak new rules which will stop junk food TV adverts during the hours of children’s TV.  However, new research by Which? (http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/foodads_new/responses/which.pdf) shows that children watch TV mostly in the early evening, and so will still be exposed to the same number of junk food adverts.  Which? showed that the new rules will not affect the 26 commercial TV programmes most watched by children.

Ofcom’s failure to protect children from junk food adverts is hardly surprising given their insistence on trying to balance the physical health of kids against the economic health of broadcasters.

The responsibility to protect children from junk food adverts now rests with the Government.  The campaign for a 9pm watershed will continue with the ’Advertising on Television of Food Bill’ which Baroness Thornton has introduced into Parliament.  It is supported by over 160 MPs (link to: http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=32033&SESSION=885).  Given Gordon Brown’s support for a voluntary 9pm watershed, we remain confident that children will soon receive the protection from junk food adverts they deserve. 

All supporters of the Children’s Food Campaign will shortly be receiving a postcard in the mail which you can send on to your MP asking them to sign EDM 404 “Food Advertising Aimed at Children” which supports Baroness Thornton’s Bill.  Please do send this postcard onto your MP – it will make a big difference.


Teaching all children to cook

We believe that teaching all children how to cook healthy, nutritious meals is an integral part of the fight against obesity.  By helping children feed themselves and their future families we will reduce families’ dependence on expensive, and usually unhealthy, processed food and teach people more about healthy and delicious food.

So we were sorry to learn that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has not made cooking a compulsory part of the new school curriculum for children aged 11-14.  This is despite a large amount of expert advice that teaching all children to cook will make a real difference to our nation’s health in the future.

The good news is that it is not too late to make your views known.  Please take just a few minutes to tell the QCA if you believe that cooking lessons should be a compulsory part of the Key Stage 3 curriculum.  Please email: curriculumreview@qca.org.uk with your views before the end of March.  More details of the recommendations can be found here: http://www.qca.org.uk/secondarycurriculumreview/index.htm

More support for traffic light food labelling

Support has been growing rapidly for ‘traffic light’ food labels (link to: www.eatwell.gov.uk/trafficlights).  A survey by Netmums (http://www.netmums.com/) who are supporters of the Children’s Food Campaign found that four out of five of parents supported traffic light labelling over the food industry’s ‘percent of GDA’ system, including 76% of Tesco customers. 

In a further boost to the traffic light system, a report by the National Heart Forum (http://www.heartforum.org.uk/) has found the GDA system to be “fundamentally flawed” and sometimes deliberately misleading.  A number of high profile organisations have also come out in support of the traffic light system: the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association, the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health, Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke and the Children’s Commissioner for England. 

We hope that the breadth and depth of support for traffic light labelling among parents and health, medical and consumer organisations will persuade food manufacturers and supermarkets to put these easy-to-understand labels on their products.

Only the European Union has the power to pass laws on front of pack food labelling.  We can help to get this law by writing to your MEPs (you can find them at http://www.writetothem.com/) and ask them to campaign for legislation to make traffic light food labelling compulsory across Europe.




2007 – the year of decisions!

As we enter 2007 many of the big decisions the campaign is working towards are looming large on the horizon. 

This year there will be:

  • The start of more new rules for school food
  • A decision by the Government on whether to legislate to restrict junk food marketing
  • A change of Prime Minister and, with that, Government policy
  • A decision on whether to teach all children how to cook in schools
    A battle over food labelling

This year could be the ‘tipping point’ that moves this country towards having a healthier attitude towards children’s food.  With hard work we can make real progress towards creating an environment which make it easier for children to eat well and stay healthy.

The most high-profile health issue is the dramatic rise in childhood obesity.  The UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe, and childhood obesity is rising at an alarming rate: one in three children is now overweight or obese.  Obesity in children under 11 has risen by over 40% in ten years.  If this trend continues, half of children will be obese or overweight by 2020.

Our campaign has come a long way to solve this and other problems caused by children’s poor diets.  Since the campaign was started we have secured much better rules for school food, some restrictions on junk food adverts aimed at children, more cookery lessons in schools and some firms adopting better food labelling.  We have also raised the issue of children’s diets and health way up the political agenda.  But progress has been patchy and there is still much more to do.  With your support we can finish the job this year.

Get your MP to sign-up to protect children from junk food advertising

Over 120 MPs have already signed EDM (Earl Day Motion) 404 to protect children from junk food advertising before 9pm.   An EDM is a way for an MP to show their support for a particular campaign.

You can find out if your MP is one of them at: http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=32033&SESSION=885

We need as many MPs as possible to sign this motion and give a strong signal to the Government, and the new administration that will start later this year, that protecting children from junk food adverts should be a top priority.

This will only take a few minutes and will make a big difference to the campaign.  You can find out how to contact your MPs, and a model letter to help you, at the Children’s Food Campaign here: https://www.sustainweb.org/page.php?id=110

Help get our views to the Prime Minister

You can help the Children’s Food Campaign to get our views into the heart of Government by voting for us as your favourite campaign at the ‘Labour Space’ website (link to: http://labourspace.com/vote.php?whichcampaign=64

This website is run by the Labour Party (and you will have to register your name with them) and the winning campaign each month gets to put their case to senior ministers, including the Prime Minister.

The Children’s Food Campaign is a cross party campaign, supported by people from all parties and none, and we work within each of the main political parties in order to put the case for better children’s food.  At the moment we are also contributing to the Conservative Party’s policy review and we met with senior Liberal Democrat policy processes last year.

Better food labelling

  Food labels are vital to improving children’s diets because they help people to make healthy food choices.  But the year began with a row as the food industry launched their food labelling scheme.

The Children’s Food Campaign published new research which showed just how flawed the food industry's 'percent of Guideline Daily Amount (GDA)' labelling scheme is.

Using figures from the Department for Education's Skills for Life survey our researchers found that almost half of all adults (47 percent) lack the numerical skills to use the percentages used in industry's labelling scheme.
This research helps explain why the Food Standards Agency, when it compared its own 'traffic-light' labelling model against industry's 'percent of GDA' labels, found that:

  • 62% of people misunderstood 'percent of GDA' labels.  In comparison, only 21% misunderstood the 'traffic light' labels recommended by the Food Standards Agency. 
  • 42% of consumers said that 'percent of GDA' labels were too complicated. 
  • 'Percent of GDA' labels took at least 3 seconds longer per item for individuals to interpret.

The food industry will be aware that their new labels will be useless to almost half of adults. and most children, who simply lack the complex mathematical skills to interpret them.  It is no wonder that the public find traffic light food labels simpler and easier to use.
We fear industry's system was designed only to give the appearance of action in the face of the current crisis in diet related ill-health, and at the same time, avoid using the red labels that might actually discourage people from eating junk food.  You can read of fact-sheet on food labelling at: https://www.sustainweb.org/news.php?id=169

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Children's Food Campaign

Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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