News / Children's Food Campaign

Product placement: stealthy and unhealthy

A coalition of children's food groups attacks the Government's u-turn on secret selling of junk food to children.

As the government launches a new consultation on product placement, leading UK health, consumer and children's groups, including the British Medical Association, Diabetes UK, National Union of Teachers, NCB and the Children's Food Campaign are calling for continued protection for children and young people from this secret selling, including that for unhealthy food, in UK-made television programmes.

Children's Food Campaign logoJackie Schneider, coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign, which is leading a coalition of groups opposing the move, said: “Product placement of junk food is stealthy and unhealthy.  This Government u-turn will expose children and young people to even more junk food marketing.  Parents will be unable to protect their children from product placement because it is not always recognisable, and is integrated into programmes.” 

Campaigners expressed concern that the consultation document did not provide details of any of the promised 'safeguards' from secret selling of junk food.  Ms Schneider said: “The Government promised there would be safeguards against secret selling.  But the current document leaves open the possibility that there will be an open door to any junk food manufacturer to target children.  We are deeply worried that any safeguards will be as weak as the rules to protect children from conventional junk food advertising, which leave the vast majority of adverts for unhealthy food unregulated.”

Jackie added: “Recent surveys have shown that 91% of people do not think it is right to influence children with product placement.  However hard things are for TV producers, we should not sacrifice children's health to prop up a couple of failing TV companies."

Only last year Andy Burnham, previous Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said that “There is a risk that product placement exacerbates this decline in trust [in television] and contaminates our programmes.”  In March he announced that product placement should not be permitted, stating that lifting the ban raised "very serious concerns" and was "blurring the boundaries between advertising and editorial".  But now media minister Ben Bradshaw has announced a change in policy, with a view to lifting the ban from early 2010.

In the US, where product placement is permitted, the company that uses this practice the most is Coca-Cola.  Yet as well as being a cause of tooth decay, research from the US has suggested that sugar-sweetened beverages may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic.  Product placement on UK-produced television programmes could lead to a similar situation in the UK, potentially contributing to our alarming rates of childhood obesity.

ENDS

For further information please contact:

Christine Haigh, Jackie Schneider or Richard Watts, Children's Food Campaign, Sustain. 
Tel: 0203 5596 777
Mob: 07710 782719 (Richard Watts) / 07795 213425 (Jackie)
Email: Christine@sustainweb.org / Jackie@sustainweb.org  


Notes to editors:

1) Those opposing product placement include Action on Allergy; Association of Teachers and Lecturers; Baby Milk Action; British Dental Association; British Dental Health Foundation; British Medical Association; Child Growth Foundation; Children's Food Campaign; Coeliac UK; Consumer Focus; Diabetes UK; The Food Commission; the Food for Life Partnership; HUSH: the UK Ecoli Support Group; Hyperactive Children's Support Group; Erik Millstone, Professor of Science Policy, University of Sussex;  National Heart Forum; National Obesity Forum; National Union of Teachers; National Children's Bureau; Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke; Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; tfX; Weight Concern.

2) The Children's Food Campaign works to improve children's health and well-being through better food - and food teaching - in schools, and protecting children from junk food marketing.  We are supported by over 300 national and local organisations and 12,000 members of the public.  The Children's Food Campaign is coordinated by Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming and is funded by the British Heart Foundation.  For more details see https://www.sustainweb.org/childrensfoodcampaign/

3) The Children's Food Campaign coordinates the “Protect children from product placement” campaign.  More information about the campaign and how to respond to the consultation are available at  https://www.sustainweb.org/childrensfoodcampaign/product_placement

4) Full details of the consultation are available at http://www.dcms.gov.uk/

5) Research by Which? in 2008 found that 16 of the 20 programmes on the commercial channels most popular with children were not classified as “children's programming”.  See http://www.which.co.uk/advice/how-tv-food-advertising-restrictions-work/index.jsp

6) Ofcom figures show that 71% of children's viewing is outside children's airtime.  See http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/tv/reports/food_ads

7) A recent survey of 1,349 UK adults by Redshift Research found that 91%, do not think it is right to influence children with product placement.  See http://www.redshiftresearch.co.uk/index.aspx?p=319

8) In the US, Coca-Cola is the company paying for the most instances of product placement, with 2,990 instances in the first six months of 2008, more than 30% of all placements by the ten top brands.  Download PDF

9) Research from the US has suggested that sugar-sweetened beverages, including soft drinks such as Coca-Cola, may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic, and that for each extra can or glass of sugared beverage consumed per day, the likelihood of a child's becoming obese increases by 60%.  See http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/NEJMp0902392

10) The Food for Life Partnership is a network of schools and communities across England committed to transforming food culture.  To join the Food for Life Partnership or find out more, check http://www.foodforlife.org.uk/.

Published 9 Nov 2009

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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