Child obesity campaigners in row over new report’s lack of teeth | Society

Published on December 7, 2017

A row has broken out over publication of a major report into child obesity, which campaigners claim has been derailed by the food industry after it dropped tough curbs on the advertising of junk food.

Representatives of four food and obesity campaign groups refused to sign up to the final version of the Centre for Social Justice report, which was funded by the supermarket chain Asda and formula milk company Danone.

In a letter published in the Guardian, the four complain that the CSJ “allowed this to become a report for the industry, by the industry and at the expense of the health of our children”.

Those who quit were Rosie Boycott, chair of the London Food Board, Myles Bremner, former director of the School Food Plan, Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation and Dan Parker, founder of Living Loud.

They say recommendations in the draft would have included a ban on the advertising of junk food on television before 9pm, a ban on the use of cartoon characters in advertising and the end of sports sponsorship, as happened with McDonald’s at the London Olympics.

All are measures backed by obesity campaigners which were not included in the government’s obesity plan last year.

Asda is a subsidiary of Walmart, which makes it “the largest retailer of high-fat, sugar and salt products in the world with revenues of $482bn”, they write in their letter. Danone is the largest supplier of infant formula in the UK and sells infant milks globally in 130 markets, they point out, and is frequently involved in controversy over the WHO code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes, it is claimed.

Parker, who abandoned a career in food marketing to found the charity Living Loud, said the restrictions he and other campaigners wanted were “woefully lacking” in the government’s obesity plan. “Over the final draft, we had a series of strong recommendations,” he said, “such as the 9pm watershed and changing the nature of promotions.”

The final report looked very different from the draft, he said.“We pulled out. There is lots of great content in that report but the whole process is not one that any of us want to be associated with,” he said.

In the final meeting of the group, Asda acknowledges that there was a disagreement about the relevance of the 9pm watershed, which would include programmes like Coronation Street and Loose Women aimed at adults only.

Rosie Boycott, the chair of the London Food Board.



Rosie Boycott, the chair of the London Food Board, refused to sign up to the CSJ report. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

A spokesperson for Asda said: “The CSJ’s report makes some strong recommendations and takes important lessons from the Amsterdam project. We are proud to have been part of this cross-sector discussion on such an important subject.”

The report recommends that the government and local mayors model their efforts on the success of Amsterdam in bringing down childhood obesity numbers, particularly among more deprived families, as the Guardian reported in April. Since 2013, the city has seen a 12% fall in childhood obesity and 18% among the most deprived.

A spokesperson for the CSJ said that the report had tried to bring together both sides, food industry and campaigners, in one room for a discussion. “There was plenty of disagreement on both sides. The report comes out of that discussion.”

“Asda had its views and the NGOs had their views.” They pointed out that the tougher action campaigners wanted on promotion and marketing of junk food has been adopted by Amsterdam, which the report holds up as a model.

The recommendations call for leadership in government and among the UK’s mayors, plus ambitious target setting, as in Amsterdam. On food, it says: “Any strategy to counter obesity must tackle the food industry at a core level. This must include properly informing the public about what they are eating, responsible advertising, clear labelling, reformulation where appropriate, and making healthy choices easier.” It does not address the advertising or marketing of food.

The CSJ’s working group was chaired by Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, who co-founded the organisation Women2Win with Theresa May to get more Conservative women into parliament.

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