An aggressive anti-obesity strategy is expected to be launched by the government early next week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to announce restrictions on how unhealthy food is sold, including banning online and TV advertising before 9pm and banning in-store promotions, according to reports.
The Institute Of Practitioners In Advertising (IPA) sent a letter to its members warning them of what this could mean for the sector.
The letter, seen by Sky News, described the government’s plans as “draconian”.
The institute’s director general Paul Bainsfair said he had written to the prime minister, chancellor, and minister for the cabinet office, explaining the lack of evidence for further restrictions and the “very real damage they would do across the industry and to agencies”.
The prime minister has previously criticised moves such as the sugar tax – labelling it a “sin stealth tax” – but it is thought his experience of coronavirus, which saw him spend a number of days in hospital, has changed his mind.
Many studies have shown obesity is a risk factor for serious complications or death from the virus, as are other lifestyle-related problems, such as type-two diabetes.
With some experts expecting a second wave of the virus this winter, the prime minister has made clear he wants to tackle obesity so people are as healthy as possible in preparation.
In his letter, Mr Bainsfair criticised the lack of “joined-up thinking” from the government, adding: “We now have strategies which revive and penalise business when the economy is in a parlous state”.
He cited the government’s own research as showing that a pre-9pm ban on junk food advertising would remove only around 1.7 daily calories from a child’s diet.
“While the effect on obesity would be insignificant, the ban would have a severe impact on revenues and jobs across the advertising sector, including agencies,” he said.
“The advertising industry has much experience of designing effective campaigns to improve the health of the nation. We have already indicated to government our desire to help with a positive advertising campaign but it appears they do not want to invest in solutions that have been proven to work.”
He added: “It seems the nation is being asked to Eat Out To Help Out but that you cannot use advertising to help attract audiences. This is rather like a silent ice cream van arriving in your street.”
The government declined to comment.
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