Banning the advertising of junk food from children’s online content in the UK and the Government’s proposed sugar tax on soft drinks isn’t enough to combat the obesity epidemic, claims an Edge Hill academic.
Obesity levels among children in the UK have more than tripled over the past 25 years, with 4.3 million children between the ages of 2 and 15 classed as overweight or obese. Research suggests that if these statistics are ignored, 85 percent of these children will become obese adults.
According to Edge Hill University Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Derek Larkin, the proposed sugar tax in the budget and the Advertising Standards Authority’s steps to remove adverts from children’s online content could see a decline in the number of children badgering their parents for junk food.
“Banning fast food commercials online is a move in the right direction,” said Dr Larkin.
“My own research has shown that TV food commercials may lead to the over consumption of calories, particularly in obese individuals. Even if the online ban comes into place the high street w
ill still be full of fast food outlets and children may still use ‘pester power’ to pressurize their parents into allowing them to consume an unhealthy diet.”
“The Chancellor of the Exchequer has just announced a tax on the sugary soft drinks industry; this has real potential in affecting behavioural change. If the healthier alternative is cheaper than the sugar rich option, parents might just think twice before deciding which drink to let their children consume.”
However, Dr Larkin believes that better nutrition education in schools would be the most powerful tool in tackling the obesity crisis.
“Ultimately I believe that obesity derives from a lack of education. Healthy lunch policies have been introduced in schools all over the country, and while this is beneficial, schoolteachers are not all trained in nutrition so they are unable to provide the adequate information to pupils. If the Government introduced mandatory nutrition education for teachers and in schools, it could see obesity levels plummet.”
Tam Fry, Chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and Spokesman for the National Obesity Forum is in agreement with Dr Larkin.
“Dr Larkin is quite correct that neither the sugar levies nor banning ads for high fat, sugar and salt foodstuffs will be enough to stem childhood obesity. At the last count the National Obesity Forum has some 44 different measures that the Government needs to implement to tackle the problem. Better education regarding food and lifestyles is high on the list. We fear, as Dr Larkin must, that the general public believe the Chancellor’s announcement will be an end to the matter. It won’t be – by a long way.”
From 2018 the proposed sugar tax will see soft drink companies taxed on all drinks containing high amounts of sugar. There will be two levy bands, a high one for products with 8g of sugar per 100ml and a lower band for those above 5g per 100ml.
Charges are expected to equate to 18p per litre for the lower band and 24p per litre for the higher band, and these charges are likely to be passed on to the customer. Pure fruit juices and milk-based products will be exempt from the tax.