Tuesday 23 October 2018

'Doomed to failure' - new voluntary code on junk food advertising criticised by health charity

Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

A new voluntary code to regulate advertising of sugary and salty foods is "doomed to failure" according to one expert in the field.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Janis Morrissey, Head of Health Promotion, Information and Training with the Irish Heart Foundation also said the measures announced today are "likely to do more harm than good".

The code was launched by the Department of Health today in a bid to reduce our consumption of junk food.

But it remains voluntary and it drew mixed reaction from health agencies with some warning that because it is not mandatory it is "doomed to failure."

It proposes companies producing these foods should not be involved in  sponsorship of events covering young children.

Displays of these foods will be restricted from 100 metres of the school gate for large roadside billboard formats.

It also says supermarkets should have one in four checkouts “sweet free”.

Marketing communications for these foods by means of social media should not target children under the age of 15.

Where it is  permissible, it should not exceed a maximum of 25pc of total advertising space. The websites of food businesses should not carry content that is designed to engage children under the age of 15 with these food brands.

These include a “children’s area, videos,‘webisodes’, branded education and interactive features.

Safefood said it is an important step in addressing our children’s obesogenic environment.

“The code is unique as it the first in Europe to address sponsorship. Our research indicates that parents in particular will welcome this move by the Department of Health.

“In a survey by Safefood, 77pc of parents told us they were concerned about sponsorship of events by snack food, sugary drinks and confectionary products and 78% would support its complete removal.”

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, Safefood commented: “Much of online marketing is targeted at children and teens and tends to focus on unhealthy food and drink options. This advertising environment is extremely complex and ever-changing and parents tend not to appreciate the very real effect it has on children’s preferences. The code is a genuine first step which will have to be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is having impact and is fit-for-purpose.”

However, the Irish Heart Foundation said State-funded research estimates that 85,000 of today’s children on the island of Ireland will die prematurely due to overweight and obesity.

“We do not doubt the deep commitment in the Department of Health to genuine action to tackle our obesity crisis and we acknowledge that in recent times there has been important progress, most notably with the introduction in April of the sugar sweetened drinks tax.

“However, not only is this new voluntary code doomed to failure, it is likely to do more harm than good by delaying real progress in limiting children’s exposure to junk food marketing.

“The simple fact is that voluntary codes don’t work. This has been demonstrated many times in many countries, including a number of failed attempts in the UK, culminating with the Responsibility Deal and the advertising industry’s digital code which been ineffective in regulating online junk food marketing to children in Ireland. The Department of Health’s own regulatory impact analysis of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill also ruled out voluntary regulation.

“Companies that sign up to voluntary codes are not obliged to meet their commitments and experience shows that those which don’t want to modify their behaviour continue to act as irresponsibly as before. Meanwhile compliant firms are put at a competitive disadvantage which is grossly unfair and can only be remedied through the legal level playing field of regulation.

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