Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, has laid down the gauntlet for the advertising industry to stop using cartoon characters to market unhealthy food such as some breakfast cereals to young consumers.
Watson was speaking at the Advertising Association’s conference, at which he invited the audience to “think deeply about how advertising could help transform the lives of Britain's 3.7 million identified diabetics”.
He said: “When it comes to high-sugar products like Coco Pops, my argument to you today is: get that monkey off our packs. I want you to find a way to help us get healthier. Get cartoon characters off adverts for high-sugar foods. Help us kick our sugar habit.”
According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, almost one in five children are overweight or obese when they start primary school, rising to one in three when they start secondary school. By 2020 it is estimated half of all children will be overweight or obese. The college’s State of Child Health: Two Years On Scorecard published revealed “reveals great progress for child health” but warned of “significant risks on the horizon”. Its president Russell Viner said: “Child poverty and inequality could undo much of the progress we are seeing.”
Watson, meanwhile, laid the blame for the obesity epidemic partly at the door of the advertising industry, saying that it had contributed to making the nation overweight, unhealthy and addicted to sugar.
He said that for children under 10, cereal is their single biggest source of free sugar intake. He added: “Even if a child had the recommended portion of Frosties, they’d be eating more than half their daily allowance of sugar before they’ve even got to school. And if they ate a bowl the size of the one that’s depicted on the front of the pack, they’d be exceeding their daily sugar allowance in one sitting.”
Kellogg’s, which makes Frosties and Coco Pops, responded in a statement, saying: “We think people know that we’ve been working hard to offer healthier choices in the morning – we’ve slashed sugar in Coco Pops by 40%, removed high-sugar Ricicles from sale and dropped the sugar in Rice Krispies too. At the same time, we’ve introduced new transparent labelling so people can make their own mind up about what they want to buy or not.”
An observational study published in the Lancet Public Health journal suggests the incidence of obesity-related cancers are rising faster in adults aged 25 to 49 than in older generations. The authors of the report published on Monday warned that the future burden of cancer in this population could halt or reverse decades of progress achieved in lowering cancer mortality.