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FSA review of advertising welcomed, but action is needed

25th September, 2003

The Food Commission welcomes the publication today of the Food Standards Agency's review of research into the effects of food promotion to children, undertaken by the University of Strathclyde.

"This report is a call to action," said Kath Dalmeny, Policy Officer for the Food Commission. "Children are already eating too much fat, sugar and salt, yet we allow them to be systematically targeted with advertising for unhealthy foods. The Food Standards Agency's review provides the evidence of what parents have known all along - advertising encourages children to choose unhealthy foods and to pester their parents for them."

"Children's advertising shows unhealthy foods in the best possible light - associating fatty and sugary foods with popularity, happy playground relationships and sporting success," said Annie Seeley, nutritionist and co-ordinator of the Food Commission's Parents Jury (1). "Food companies are experts at selling junk food and soft drinks to children using advertising, packaging and free gifts, but the one thing that repeatedly gets left out is good nutrition. It's time that food producers and advertisers used their expertise to sell healthier foods to children."

The publication of the report puts weight behind a call by a coalition of 85 national organisations for legislation to protect children from the promotion of foods that contribute to a unhealthy diet. The coalition is being co-ordinated by Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming. The Food Commission is a co-signatory to the coalition. See for more information.

Further information

Contact Kath Dalmeny on 020 7837 2250

Background notes

The Food Standards Agency's review states that:

  • Food promotion has an effect on children's food preferences, food purchases and consumption.
  • Food promotion not only increases sales of particular food brands, but also increases the sales of whole categories of food.
  • The categories of food most advertised to children are pre-sugared breakfast cereals, soft-drinks, confectionery, savoury snacks and fast food.
  • Overall, the food items which predominate in children's advertising were considered to be, or classified as, unhealthy. The advertised diet contrasts with that recommended by public health bodies.

What are children eating?

School aged children's increasing consumption of snacks and drinks
Volume increase
% increase
Sugary drinks
1,442 ml/week
2,361 ml/week
919 ml more per week
up 64%
Savoury snacks
99 g/per week
120 g per week
21 g more per week
up 21%
210 g/per week
235 g per week
25 g more per week
up 12%
Data from: the Food Standards Agency's National Diet & Nutrition Survey
and the Department of Health's report: Diets of British Schoolchildren


National surveys of children's diets show that children are eating around twice as much sugar and salt as the recommended level, and too much fat and saturated fat. Diets high in fat, salt and sugar are associated with conditions such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis. The World Cancer Research Fund also estimates that about one third of all cancers are caused by poor diets.

Support from health organisations and consumer groups

With the evidence that conditions such as obesity, heart disease, many cancers and diabetes are affected by poor diets, many health professionals and organisations have already supported the view that food marketing to children should be controlled. In 2003, the UK's Chief Medical Officer stated that:

"There is a case for adopting the precautionary principle for the marketing of foods to children", and that "regulating the promotion of foods through schools and other approaches, to discourage the consumption of products high in fat and added sugars, are both worthy of consideration". (2)

A coalition of 85 national organisations including three royal colleges, health charities, the National Union of Teachers, the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the Food Commission, are calling for legislation to protect children from the promotion of foods that contribute to a unhealthy diet. The coalition is being co-ordinated by Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming. See for more information.

The World Health Organization

The Food Standards Agency's review confirms what an expert report from the World Health Organization has already stated (earlier in 2003) that the evidence is 'probable' or 'convincing' that:

  • A high intake of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods has a damaging effect on health;
  • A high intake of sugar-sweetened drinks has a damaging effect on health;
  • Heavy marketing of high-calorie foods and fast-food outlets has a damaging effect on health. (3)

What parents think

In 2002, a survey of adults by the Chartered Institute of Marketing showed that 75% felt that children see too much advertising, 73% thought laws governing advertising and targeting children should be strengthened, and 73% said they think advertising makes children want the things they see promoted. (4)

A survey of parents by the Institute of Grocery Distribution Consumer Unit in 2002 found that 70% of parents thought that "the use of advertising, free toys and character branding" had "much more influence" or "quite a lot more influence" than parents on food choice. (5)

Three quarters parents surveyed by Which? magazine in 2003 (Consumers Association) said advertising and other promotions make it hard to insist that their children eat healthier foods; 70% thought there should be no advertising at all of junk foods during children's TV viewing times. (6)

In 2000, a survey by the Co-operative Wholesale Society found that 73% of children had used 'pester power' to obtain products seen in food adverts from their parents; 80% of parents wanted tighter controls on advertising to children, and 77% wanted to see a ban on the advertising of food to children. (7)


The Parents Jury is a campaign giving parents the opportunity to voice their opinions about children's food and marketing. To date, there are over 1,500 members of the Parents Jury.
Chief Medical Officer Annual Report: Health Check on the State of the Public Health: 2002,
WHO Technical report series 916 (2003) Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, section 5.2.4 'Strength of evidence', table 7, p.63:
Chartered Institute of Marketing (2002) Press release: Drop in the number of adults supporting restrictions on advertising to children, 11 November 2002.
IGD (2002) Fact Sheets: Marketing Food to Children (published 21/08/02): Consumer Perceptions of Children's diets.
Consumers Association (2003) Parents are concerned about the way junk food is marketed to their children, says Which? - press release, 07/08/03,
Co-operative Wholesale Society (2000) Blackmail - The first in a series of inquiries into consumer concerns about the ethics of modern food production and advertising. CWS Ltd: Manchester.


The following pages may also be of interest

  • Campaigns:Parents Jury
    The Parents Jury was an independent jury of over 1,300 parents who came together to improve the quality of children's foods and drinks in the UK. The Jury was co-ordinated by The Food Commission.