Is the UK government’s consultation on banning online ads ‘nanny state’ or vital intervention?

One of the most intriguing stories to break this past week has been that of the UK government’s newly launched consultation on whether it should place bans on online advertising for foods containing comparatively high levels of sugar, fat and salt.

In many instances, confectionery falls undeniably into those categories and doesn’t seek to hide that fact – which has led to a number of industry insiders and observers claiming it has been unfairly demonised as an occasional treat rather than a regular fixture within our dietary intake.

That’s a perspective that’s easy to fathom, yet on the flip side there remains a strong lobby from those citing the equally powerful statistics that have shown that a third of school children are considered clinically obese. How are we to fathom a way out of this situation you ask? Is banning online advertising going to help?

In truth, key studies have shown that the public is indeed very tapped into online advertising on social media in particular, so it’s understandable that this has been seen as an area to target reducing or outright removing heavy promotion of some of the product ranges that have been greeting our screens over the year. Would outright removal of such adverts have a tangible impact on buying behaviours? It’s unlikely that’s the case that it would do purely on its own. For many, the answer may also lie in greater education within schools on what represents a balanced diet, encouraging pupils to cook and eat a wide range of food that is nutritionally valuable – including some occasional treats too, which is a message or framework of learning that isn’t widely entrenched within British schooling.

Perhaps such interventions  are seen by many as being too much of a case as being ‘nanny state’ interference by many who already feel that such issues are very much a personal choice. One thing appears clear though, as we’ve previously covered in Confectionery Production – voluntary regulation of the confectionery and wider food and drink sector in encouraging it to reduce sugar, salt and fat levels is something that has been proven not to work with Public Health England’s campaign to reduce 20% of sugar, with manufacturers failing to deliver anywhere near the targets.

Clearly, the technology exists to reformulate product ranges to be more healthy, industry is simply lagging behind in actually delivering this on a broad commercial scale, despite a number of healthier option product ranges coming to market in recent years. This remains one of the great issues of our age that will take some time to resolve.

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