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Call to protect children from junk food advertising and cut obesity

The 18 top-spending crisp, confectionery and sugary drinks brands are paying £143 million a year on advertising, according to an analysis.

NHS spending on obesity is soaring as junk food companies pour millions of pounds into advertising unhealthy products in the UK, a group of leading charities has warned.

The 18 top-spending crisp, confectionery and sugary drinks brands are paying out more than £143 million a year on advertising their products, according to analysis by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA), released to mark World Obesity Day.

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The NHS meanwhile spends an estimated £38 million a year on weight loss surgery as part of £5.1 billion on obesity-related conditions.

The millions spent on junk food advertising also “dwarfs” the £5.2 million spent by the Government last year on its flagship healthy eating programme, leading to an “unbalanced environment pushing consumers towards unhealthy choices”, the alliance of 40 leading health charities said.

Junk food brands are spending 27.5 times more on advertising their products than the amount available for the Government’s Change4Life healthy eating campaign, while NHS spending on weight loss surgery alone is an estimated six times the amount spent on the Change4Life campaign, according to the OHA’s analysis.

The OHA is calling on Government to close existing loopholes to restrict children’s exposure to junk food marketing across all media, including on TV prior to the 9pm watershed, citing a recent study by Cancer Research UK that found that such adverts make children “hungry” and “tempted”.

It also wants marketing rules extended to cover sponsorship of sports, family attractions and marketing communications in schools.

OHA spokeswoman Caroline Cerny said: “Junk food companies are spending tens of millions of pounds a year on promoting their products. Government healthy eating campaigns can’t possibly compete.

“There’s only ever going to be one winner, so it’s not surprising that the cost of obesity both to people’s health, the NHS and wider society, is spiralling out of control. Something needs to be done urgently to redress the balance.”

A government spokesman said: “Current advertising restrictions in the UK on junk food are among the toughest in the world, including a ban on advertising junk food in children’s media.

“We are absolutely committed to tackling childhood obesity and supporting people to make healthy choices.

“Over the past year we have made substantial progress; introducing a world-leading soft drinks industry levy, and publishing sugar reduction targets that aim to cut 20% of the sugar people consume from popular food products by 2020.

“In addition many leading household brands have announced they are lowering, or have already lowered, the amount of sugar in their products.”

British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington said: “We recognise we have a role to play in tackling obesity which is why the soft drinks industry was one of the driving forces in pushing for further measures to support children’s health and well-being.

“In 2016, soft drinks companies voluntarily agreed not to advertise any drinks high in sugar to under-16s across all media channels, including online, advergames, around schools, and specific sporting events – a year ahead of the CAP Code revision.

“The sector has also increased advertising spend on low and no-calorie drinks substantially in recent years.”

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