Comment

Stop bombarding children with junk food advertising

Nurses act as role models and support all efforts to tackle the growing obesity crisis.
Child with sugary drink

Nurses must act as role models and support all efforts to tackle the growing obesity crisis.

A year ago the government launched its childhood obesity plan Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action . This long-awaited plan had been eagerly anticipated by health professionals after the government promised it would be a comprehensive and far-reaching strategy to tackle the devastating childhood obesity crisis.

With one in three children overweight or obese, a comprehensive strategy to reduce obesity is desperately needed. Obese children are five times more likely than average to grow into obese adults, with the increased risk of a range of devastating physical health conditions and associated mental health problems.

Unfortunately, what the government eventually launched was met with universal

...

Nurses must act as role models and support all efforts to tackle the growing obesity crisis.


Picture: iStock

A year ago the government launched its childhood obesity plan Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action. This long-awaited plan had been eagerly anticipated by health professionals after the government promised it would be a comprehensive and far-reaching strategy to tackle the devastating childhood obesity crisis.

With one in three children overweight or obese, a comprehensive strategy to reduce obesity is desperately needed. Obese children are five times more likely than average to grow into obese adults, with the increased risk of a range of devastating physical health conditions and associated mental health problems.

Unfortunately, what the government eventually launched was met with universal disappointment from health professionals, public health experts, charities and campaign groups.

Particularly concerning was its lack of proposals to protect the next generation through education about pre-conceptual health and its failure to tackle junk food advertising to children, which we know has a direct impact on their food choices.

The good news is that, over the past year, some progress has been made.

Soft drinks

The biggest success story is the soft drinks industry levy, which seeks to encourage manufacturers to remove sugar from soft drinks or face a financial levy linked to the amount of sugar content added to their products.

Passed by parliament in April this year, the soft drinks levy has already encouraged big-name companies to significantly reduce sugar from their drinks, which contribute the most sugar to children’s diets. 

Another promising aspect of the government’s plan is the sugar-reduction programme.

Led by Public Health England, this programme involves retailers, manufacturers and the restaurant sector. Its aim is to reduce the sugar content of foods commonly eaten by children by 20% by 2020. 

To coincide with the obesity plan’s one-year anniversary, Public Health England have also announced plans to begin a programme to make everyday food less calorific.

This may succeed if ambitious targets are set and meaningful sanctions imposed on the food industry.

Advertising

The efforts to reduce sugar and calories from our food are generally welcome, and can help all of society.

But we won’t reduce the levels of childhood obesity until we stop allowing the junk food industry to advertise to our children.

There is a wealth of evidence showing junk food advertising encourages unhealthy food choices in children, yet they continue to be bombarded with sophisticated advertising techniques during programmes they watch on television and online.

Obesity is a complex problem and brave solutions are needed.

Parents and families must ensure their children have the best possible start in life, and the government should encourage and enable them to make healthy food choices.

Tackling the environment where children are brought up and in which we all live is a vital part of this process. 

Nurses and midwives, in their professional lives and as health role models in society, must rise to the challenge.

They should support at every opportunity calls for government action and every activity that can help to tackle the obesity crisis. The health and indeed economic welfare of our nation going forward needs commitment from us all.

Find out more​


About the author

Judith_Ellis

Judith Ellis is a children's nurse and is chief executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, a steering group member of the Obesity Health Alliance

Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursingchildrenandyoungpeople.com
  • Bi-monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs