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If food advertising caused childrens weight gain and obesity, wouldnt you expect to find an increase in advertising that parallels the increase in obesity? This is not the case. UK food and drink ad spending has been falling in real terms since 1999 and is now roughly at 1982 levels...while rates of overweight and obesity have been rising.
The projections are that those rates will continue to rise under the Government. The authors also point out that
in 1982 food ads constituted 34 per cent. of total television advertising, whereas in 2002 they made up only 18 per cent. Where is the link between food advertising and childrens weight, let alone childrens obesity?
In the US, similar evidence has been adduced. According to the Federal Trade Commission, advertising during childrens television programming has declined by 34 per cent. in recent years and food advertising on television has declined by 13 per cent. since 1993. However, there is no evidence that childhood obesity levels in the US have declined as a result.
The authors then say that if the level of advertising has not increased, perhaps the level of television viewing has increased. In fact, to the surprise of manyincluding metelevision viewing has not increased over the period of the obesity epidemic. Some observers suggest that it has not changed for children and adolescents for the past 40 years. There is some evidence that the time children spend watching television has actually declined in recent years. The idea that people are getting fatter because they are couch potatoes may be wrong according to that evidence.
The authors then draw attention to the fact that when children sit down and watch television, they view a balanced presentation of foods. A British study looked at the food messages and references in regular programming, as opposed to those contained in food advertising, because there are as many references to food in regular programming as during the adverts. Childrens regular programming contained references far more centred on so-called healthy foods. For example, fruit and vegetables were the most frequently portrayed foods in regular programming, and that might be regarded as positive advertising for healthy eating. If one of the unintended consequences of the Bill would be less good childrens programming, there would be less opportunity for those positive messages to be put across.
Philip Davies: One of the supporters of the Bill said earlier that if advertising made no difference, companies would not advertise. Does my hon. Friend agree that that misunderstands the purpose of advertising by food manufacturers? The chief purpose of their adverts is to build their market share in a sector, rather than to grow the sector as a whole.
Mr. Chope: I am sure that that is the avowed purpose, although I have some disappointing news on that subject for my hon. Friend, from the same study.
Mr. Evans: Everybody knows that people should eat five pieces of fruit a day, and there is a lot of advertising promoting that, whether on television, in magazines or elsewhere. Children who come into my shop rarely ask for fruit. Instead, they want crisps, cans of fizzy drink and other sweets. That reinforces the point that advertising on its own does not have the impact that people suggest.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, there is substantial econometric literature that disproves the alleged connection between advertising, diets and weight. Peter Kyle of the University of Lancaster examined the impact of food advertising on food consumption, and he found no evidence to support the popular myth that advertising increased market size. Martyn Duffy of the University of Manchester studied the impact of advertising on 11 food categories. Not only did advertising have no effect on food demand, but it also had virtually no effect on the demand for any individual food. Duffys
conclusions are hardly exceptional. Other studies into the effect of advertising of such items as breakfast cereals and biscuits, both frequently cited as bogeymen in the childhood obesity epidemic, have concluded that advertising did not affect market size in any general way or to any material extent.
Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman is putting on a characteristically fascinating exhibition, but if he really supports these academic theses, how does he explain the explosion in the consumption of breakfast cereals, for example, in emerging economies where they had never been promoted before?
Mr. Chope: First, I am not sure of the facts about the amount of breakfast cereals consumed in emerging economies, but one of my concernsI referred to it earlieris the increase in drug taking, particularly cannabis, among young people, which is totally dissociated from advertising. I suspect that drug taking is increasing in this country for exactly the same reason as cereals are being consumed more widely in the third world countries that the hon. Gentleman mentionedmainly as a result of availability and the fact that word on the street says that they are good things to get ones hands on.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. It also depends on the maturity of the market, and the particular market that the Bill focuses on is a very mature market, so the point raised by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) does not apply. Would not the only consequence of the Bill be to protect the market share of the current biggest food producers because no one else would be able to advertise to get a slice of the market? If someone produced a slightly healthier version of a particular product but it was not healthy enough to meet the demands of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, they would not be able to advertise it, so people would have to stick with the current more unhealthy product.
Mr. Chope: I think that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are not talking only about advertising on television. If we are talking about advertising in the wider sense of promotion, many new products are promoted because they are offered at a reduced price in supermarkets or smaller shops. People, including me, are always looking for a bargain, so they can choose a new brand of a well known product with new ingredients to discover whether they like it. They can do so by buying it at a price significantly below that of the standard product. That is another way in which producers can get new products on to the market, but if the foods were regarded as being unhealthy for children, they would be outlawed under the Bill.
My final example on the same theme is the report by Bob Eagle and Tim Ambler, who looked into the impact of advertising on chocolate consumption in five European countries in order to test the claim that a reduction in advertising would reduce consumption. They reported no significant association between the amount of advertising and the size of the chocolate market. When we went to supermarket check-outs in the past, they used to try to tempt consumers by offering two bars for the price of one; nowadays, they have two bars or one very large bar on offer and try to tempt us by saying, More to share.
I am not sure that people buying those bars are not going to eat them all themselves, but this provides an example of the promoters attempting to be politically correct, in the sure knowledge that most of the more to share bars are going to be consumed by one particular individual.
As I suggested earlier, as well as there being no evidence in support of the Bill and of the thesis advanced by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, there is evidence against it. The Bill completely breaches the principle that regulation should be based on proper scientific evidence.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend mentions chocolate marketing. Does he agree that when Cadburys sponsored Coronation Street, which would presumably be outlawed by the Bill, the company did not expect everyone immediately to leap off the sofa, switch off the TV and go out to the nearest newsagent to buy an extra bar of Cadburys Dairy Milk, but rather advertised in the hope that the next time someone went to the newsagents to buy a bar of chocolate, they would buy a bar made by Cadbury rather than Nestlé?
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Another example that springs to mind in the light of todays opinion polls is that despite spending ever-increasing amounts of taxpayers money on Government advertising, the Government have not become any more popular!
Mr. Evans: As my hon. Friend will remember, the leader of our great party once attacked one well-known shopping brand for promoting Terrys Chocolate Oranges and not having real oranges in its shops. If the Bill were enacted, people would look into different ways of promoting products. In some stores, we see signs saying, Five chocolate bars for a pound. I suspect that it is those offers, rather than watching advertising on television, that entice people into buying five barsand then, perhaps, eating one or two more than they should.
Mr. Chope: As always, my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
There is the related issue of school lunchbox inspections. At the behest of television chef Jamie Oliver, and promoted by the Department for Education and Skills and the Food Standards Agency, there was a plan to promote healthy food in school lunchboxes by encouraging teachers to confiscate unhealthy products. As a consequence of that, head teachers were a lot busier than hitherto, as they had to deal with angry parents. Those parents might previously have made only an occasional visit to the school, but their interest in what was happening at school was provoked by the fact that their children were unable to eat for lunch what they had decided would be good for them.
Let me turn to another fundamental flaw in the Bill. Who will decide what is unhealthy? The Bills promoter suggests that the FSAs remit should be extended so that it has a role not only in informing the public about food facts but in making a judgment on behalf of the public that could, in a regulatory context, result in the promoters of certain foods becoming criminalised.
Mr. Evans: Buoyed up by the Jaffa Cakes I have eaten, I have thought of another instance of people or organisations involved at the point of sale possibly falling foul of the law if the Bill is enacted. Strawberries and cream are advertised at the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The strawberries would be deemed good, but the cream would be deemed not good. Therefore, would Wimbledon fall foul of this Bill and be liable to pay an unlimited fine?
Mr. Chope: Provided that they are English strawberries and it is British cream, I am sure that that would be all right. However, my hon. Friend provides another point on which the Bill can be ridiculed. It is good that Members are scrutinising it today, because the fact that so many of our colleagues have signed early-day motions in support of it shows that a lot of them have not fully thought through its implications. It might sound like a good idea to say, Obesitys an issue, so lets deal with it by not allowing television advertising to target unhealthy foods at our children.
Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that when the promoter of this Bill was a small business Minister he said he had four ministerial goals, one of which was
to argue within government against over-regulation, red tape and zealous bureaucracy?
Has he not performed an astounding somersault since his days as a Minister?
Mr. Chope: It is certainly hard to find any consistency between what the hon. Gentleman said was his role then and his work in the House at presentalthough I am sorry that he is temporarily absent from the Chamber and therefore unable to defend himself. Like other Members, I hope that he will decide to withdraw his Bill, rather than try to press on to a Second Reading and then into Committee. My own view is that it is so far short of perfect that it is incapable of being improved and made into a proper and acceptable Bill in Committee. It would be much better to go back to the drawing board and to look at calorie intake and how we encourage children to balance their intake with their outputs.
Giving to the FSA the additional role assigned to it in clause 3 gives rise to a very serious point. At the moment, people look to the FSA as an impartial, rational provider of information. As soon as that role is changed to that of a partial, judgmental decider of what does or does not constitute less healthy food, it will find its position compromised and increasingly untenable. The idea of extending that duty to the FSA, which would be necessary to make the Bill work, is particularly ill-conceived.
In an earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) said that the Bill is very much supported by the people of Wales. However, the Welsh National Farmers Union and the NFU generally are extremely concerned about its implications. As was said in earlier interventionsmy hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) also made the pointfoods such as dairy products would be regarded as less healthy, even though they are absolutely critical in establishing a balanced diet.
Parents are being bombarded with many different messages. I even read in a newspaper recently that the five a day message is now being distorted. Some children are having so much in the way of fruit and vegetables that they are not getting enough carbohydrates: their diet is becoming unbalanced, with perhaps too much fruit and acidity in it. Because fruit and fruit juice are linked, people think, Lets have a lot more fruit juice. I know people who consume litre upon litre of fruit juice each day, yet such juices are rich in sugars and in calories. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage has a lot of fruit juice.
Mr. Chope: So it all comes back to the basic principles, which are moderation in all things and a healthy mind in a healthy body, as we used to say at school. I leave it for others to judge whether that has worked out in practice.
The Bills next major defect is its references to non-broadcast media, which are listed as (a) to (h) in the second part of clause 1, on interpretation. Under (h) we have
sponsorship, including communications which refer to sponsorship,
with all that that involves regarding the Olympics. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) was critical of what I said about the London 2012 Olympic Committee having got McDonalds as a sponsor.
Mr. Evans: I want to drag my hon. Friend back to when he was talking about the print media. We are talking about red wine here, because the provisions include alcohol. Doctors tell us that the odd glass of red wine is healthy and does us good, but under the Bill the advertising of red wine would be outlawed.
Mr. Chope: That is an aspect of the Bill that I have not yet noted, but I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We do not necessarily want our children to go out and buy a lot of red wine too early in life, but I certainly support the continental approach to bringing up children, which involves allowing them an occasional glass of wine at the table, rather than creating a climate in which alcohol is regarded as something that they should not get their hands on until they are 18. Responsible drinking and eating are all part of the same thesis. The Bill would pick out a particular item and demonise it, as my hon. Friend has pointed out.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not agree that the main responsibility for what children eat lies with their parents? Similarly, the amount of pocket money that they are allowed to spend unsupervised is also a matter for parents. If children have enough money to buy expensive items such as wine, that also ought to be the responsibility of their parents, who should be supervising what their children spend their money on.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am not sure whether she was here during some of the earlier enthusiastic contributions from people who support the Bill, but we almost reached a stage at which it could be suggested that shopkeepers should be banned from
selling some foodstuffs to children. Obviously, there are rules and regulations relating to the sale of alcohol and tobacco to children, but it seemed that, if we were to follow the logic of some of the promoters supporters, it would not be long before we were banning certain items from being sold to children in the shops because they were regarded as less than healthy. That is another example of what some of the zealots would like to see.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is touching on an important point. When the initial restrictions were placed on advertising, it became perfectly clear that they would not make any difference to childhood obesity, but the health zealots have come back and said that those restrictions did not work because they did not go far enough. Then, when further restrictions are shown not to work, they will no doubt come back again and say that they want even more restrictions. It will not be very long before they are advocating banning certain products from being sold in shops.
Mr. Chope: We know what the consequences of that would be. The law of unintended consequences would apply, and any products that could not be bought openly in the shops would become contraband among children. They would become the products that the children would most want to go for. That is the way in which the real world operates, and there is nothing that those who advocate a more nannying state can do about it, thankfully.
The category of non-broadcast media includes sponsorship, cinema, video, text messaging and the internet. It is significant that the restrictions on the non-broadcast media would apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, whereas the restrictions on the broadcast media would apply only between 5.30 am and 9 pm. That is a grossly simplistic and unfair division to impose. Television programmes that are broadcast between 9 pm and 5.30 am can be recorded and watched at other times. In the context of the Bill, we must note that such programmes could contain a mass of advertisements targeted at children and urging them to buy particular products. If such programmes were being recorded and watched at other times, they would be in a different position from internet programmes. If such a programme were broadcast on the internet, such advertising would be outlawed completely, but if it were originally broadcast between 9 pm and 5.30 am and then recorded, such advertising would not be outlawed. That inconsistency has not been properly explained.
Angela Watkinson: Does my hon. Friend agree that the same principle that applies to the spending of pocket money and what meals children eat also applies to what they watch on television and to their internet use? Parents should be aware of when their children are viewing, when they are using their computers and what they are doing. This is a matter for control within the home.
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The more we undermine responsible parenthood by measures such as this Bill, the less responsible parenthood there will be.
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