The government has been urged to take action to stop companies marketing unhealthy food to children in the light of the childhood obesity epidemic.
According to a new report from consumer watchdog Which?, childhood obesity is spreading because junk food companies are using “dirty tricks” to hook children on their products. These include product placement in computer games and using artificial intelligence software to chat to people online.
The marketing of food with high content of fat or sugar to children is regulated by a voluntary code of practice. But in a letter sent to health secretary Patricia Hewitt this week, Which? has called for tough legislation if the industry fails to tighten its own guidelines.
Which? campaign team leader Miranda Watson said: “The current code is clearly not working and does not cover all forms of marketing. The industry is supposed to tighten its own rules by 2007, but there is not much chance of this happening.
“The tricks are so prevalent – children are subjected to a constant barrage of marketing. Thanks to this sort of pressure, one in seven children under 11 is now obese.”
The Pre-School Learning Alliance, which has also warned the government that it risks letting down future generations of children if it fails to bridge the nutrition gap in the early years, backed the call for tighter controls on advertising.
“We would like to see a better balance,” a spokesperson said. “If, for instance, for every one advert for junk food there were four for healthy, nutritional food, then that would improve choice for children.”
The charity last week launched a nutrition training programme for early years professionals in a bid to improve healthy eating in young children.
To contribute your views to the Which? kids’ food campaign, go to www.which.co.uk/kidsfood