Junk food ad spending outstrips UK government campaigns as healthcare costs of obesity soar

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13 Oct 2017 --- Money spent last year on junk food advertising in the UK far outweighed the amount the government spent on healthy eating campaigns, leading to an unbalanced environment pushing the British public towards unhealthy choices, according to new analysis by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA).

Junk food brands are spending 27.5 times more on advertising their products than the amount available for the government’s flagship healthy eating campaign – and as obesity rates soar, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is having to spend more dealing with the consequences, with weight loss surgery alone costing an estimated six times the amount spent on the Change 4 Life campaign.

“Government cannot be expected to spend the hundreds of millions of pounds a year spent on advertising by companies promoting junk food. Instead, there need to be restrictions on junk food marketing – and of course, we’d want healthy eating campaigns and health food to be promoted more,” Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion, Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, tells NutritionInsight of the findings.

“It’s all about creating an environment that encourages healthy eating and makes it easier to make healthy choices,” Viner adds.

Danger to UK public health
The UK’s obesity epidemic threatens to cripple the NHS financially while putting the health of the nation at risk, says the OHA, a group of more than 40 leading health charities, royal medical colleges and campaign groups. The OHA is calling on Government to close existing loopholes to restrict children’s exposure to junk food marketing across all media, including on TV prior to the 9 pm “watershed” after which programs with more adult content are allowed to be broadcast.

There is clear evidence of the impact of junk food marketing on obesity – with a recent study by Cancer Research UK finding that adverts make children “hungry” and “tempted,” the OHA press release reports.

Latest figures show that:

  • The top 18 spending potato chips, confectionery and sugary drinks brands put over £143 million (US$190 million) a year into advertising.
  • The UK government spent £5.2 million last year on its Change4Life healthy eating campaign.
  • The NHS spends an estimated £38 million a year on weight loss surgery – although surgery can be cost saving in the longer term.
  • Treating obesity relating conditions is estimated to cost the NHS £5.1 billion a year.

“It’s like a very unbalanced diet – with children’s health getting a raw deal,” Caroline Cerny, OHA Lead, says. “Junk food companies are spending tens of millions of pounds a year on promoting their products. Government healthy eating campaigns can’t possibly compete.”

“There’s only ever going to be one winner – so it’s not surprising that the cost of obesity both to people’s health, the NHS and wider society, is spiraling out of control. Something needs to be done urgently to redress the balance,” Cerny points out.

The OHA also wants to see marketing rules extended to cover sponsorship of sports, family attractions and marketing communications in schools.

“Investing in prevention is important – the fewer people who are overweight or obese, the fewer obesity-related conditions they will suffer and the less cost there will be to the NHS,” says Malcolm Clark, Coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign. “The soft drinks industry levy and reformulation programs are key to changing the nation’s diet, but without more effective restrictions on junk food advertising, any attempts to promote healthy living are never going to work.”

“The role of advertising in driving us towards unhealthy foods cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to children. This is why chocolate and [potato chips] brands are pumping millions into advertising every year,” Clark points out. “We need the government to go further to protect children from junk food marketing and to safeguard their future health and to avoid having to spend millions dealing with the consequences down the line.”

The industry has started taking action. “The Soft Drinks Industry Levy (so-called sugar tax) is a good start. There is also a programme underway to reformulate food, which sets a target for sugar reduction,” adds Viner. “Companies will be subject to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy from next year, and many are engaging well with reformulation program. But this needs to be monitored.”

Junk food brands are spending 27.5 times more on advertising their products than the amount available for the government’s flagship healthy eating campaign – and as obesity rates soar, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is having to spend more dealing with the consequences, with weight loss surgery alone costing an estimated six times the amount spent on the Change 4 Life campaign.

“Government cannot be expected to spend the hundreds of millions of pounds a year spent on advertising by companies promoting junk food. Instead, there need to be restrictions on junk food marketing – and of course, we’d want healthy eating campaigns and health food to be promoted more,” Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion, Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, tells NutritionInsight of the findings.

“It’s all about creating an environment that encourages healthy eating and makes it easier to make healthy choices,” Viner adds.

Danger to UK public health
The UK’s obesity epidemic threatens to cripple the NHS financially while putting the health of the nation at risk, says the OHA, a group of more than 40 leading health charities, royal medical colleges and campaign groups. The OHA is calling on Government to close existing loopholes to restrict children’s exposure to junk food marketing across all media, including on TV prior to the 9 pm “watershed” after which programs with more adult content are allowed to be broadcast.

There is clear evidence of the impact of junk food marketing on obesity – with a recent study by Cancer Research UK finding that adverts make children “hungry” and “tempted,” the OHA press release reports.

Latest figures show that:

•    The top 18 spending potato chips, confectionery and sugary drinks brands put over £143 million (US$190 million) a year into advertising.

•    The UK government spent £5.2 million last year on its Change4Life healthy eating campaign.

•    The NHS spends an estimated £38 million a year on weight loss surgery – although surgery can be cost saving in the longer term.

•    Treating obesity relating conditions is estimated to cost the NHS £5.1 billion a year.

“It’s like a very unbalanced diet – with children’s health getting a raw deal,” Caroline Cerny, OHA Lead, says. “Junk food companies are spending tens of millions of pounds a year on promoting their products. Government healthy eating campaigns can’t possibly compete.”

“There’s only ever going to be one winner – so it’s not surprising that the cost of obesity both to people’s health, the NHS and wider society, is spiraling out of control. Something needs to be done urgently to redress the balance,” Cerny points out.

The OHA also wants to see marketing rules extended to cover sponsorship of sports, family attractions and marketing communications in schools.

“Investing in prevention is important – the fewer people who are overweight or obese, the fewer obesity-related conditions they will suffer and the less cost there will be to the NHS,” says Malcolm Clark, Coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign. “The soft drinks industry levy and reformulation programs are key to changing the nation’s diet, but without more effective restrictions on junk food advertising, any attempts to promote healthy living are never going to work.”

“The role of advertising in driving us towards unhealthy foods cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to children. This is why chocolate and [potato chips] brands are pumping millions into advertising every year,” Clark points out. “We need the government to go further to protect children from junk food marketing and to safeguard their future health and to avoid having to spend millions dealing with the consequences down the line.”

The industry has started taking action. “The Soft Drinks Industry Levy (so-called sugar tax) is a good start. There is also a programme underway to reformulate food, which sets a target for sugar reduction,” adds Viner. “Companies will be subject to the Soft Drinks Industry Levy from next year, and many are engaging well with reformulation program. But this needs to be monitored.”

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