We call for government to take action to improve children's diets.

7 October 2015        

Junk food tieing up children

Nearly three quarters of parents (74%) say their children have pestered them to buy junk food according to a new survey. Of those who have experienced ‘pester power’ at some point from their children, more than a third of the responses from parents related to junk food advertising, in particular to  adverts that children are seeing on TV. 

Around 30% of children in the UK are overweight or obese, and we're urging the government to put strong measures in place with the publication of their upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy. We are calling for better regulations that will make being healthy the easy choice and help stem the tide of serious health problems and health costs associated with obesity, such as heart and circulatory disease, for future generations. 

Mike Hobday, Director of Policy at the British Heart Foundation, said:  “Parents want their children to be healthy, but at every step, the food and drinks industry are aggressively targeting children as consumers, and turning the checkout into a junk food battleground.  The odds and the shelves are literally stacked against families. 

“The government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy is a huge opportunity to break down the barriers between us and a healthier environment for our children on a national scale. That’s why we’re calling for a ban on the advertising of unhealthy products on TV before the 9pm watershed.

“If we truly want our children to grow up strong and healthy and with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, parents needs to be supported by the government so that they stand a fighting chance of giving their children the kind of balanced diet that they need.”

Junk Food Marketing

Research by The Food Standards Agency has found that TV marketing of food and drink products can influence children’s food preferences. Loopholes in the UK regulatory system mean that junk food adverts which are banned during children’s programming can still be shown during family programming, such as X-Factor, when children’s TV viewing peaks.

Junk food displays at checkouts  have also been named in the survey as key pester culprits, with more than 40% parents saying that this scenario was likely to trigger a request for junk food. 

While the overwhelming majority of parents (85%) recognise that what their children eat now is important for their health in later life, we're deeply concerned that parents’ best efforts to protect their children’s health are being sabotaged by an environment where junk food marketing is openly aimed at children. Not only is more lifesaving research needed to help reduce the number of people suffering from heart disease, but we want to ensure that good intentions are not being undermined by a nation where foods that are high in salt, sugar and saturated fats are constantly within arm’s reach.

The survey also shows that while the majority of parents felt that they had control over what their children ate and drank within the home, 75% admit that they don’t know as much about what happens when their children are out and about. 

One in four parents believes that not being able to influence what their children eat away from home stands in the way of being able to ensure that their children have a healthy diet.

Jon Gardner, a father of three from Manchester, said: “When I turned 40 I started taking my own health much more seriously. I try to make sure that what I’m cooking at home gives my kids what they need to grow up healthy and active and with healthy eating habits from the start. As a working parent, it’s easy to succumb sometimes to a ready meal that takes five minutes or to say yes to sweets by the till but it would be great to know that the Government is on our side as parents.”

Our calls to Government:

  • A 9pm watershed ban on junk food marketing with better restrictions of online content.
  • The Government should issue guidelines on portion sizes and work with industry to ensure that the layout of shops and promotions are not used to aggressively promote unhealthy choices.
  • Sugary sweetened beverages should be taxed to reduce consumption of a range of products which are both harmful and unnecessary and offer no nutritional benefit other than energy. These include soft drinks or energy drinks that have added sugars, syrups or other sweetening ingredients, but does not include pure fruit juices, without added sugar. 

Find out more about our policy on junk food marketing to children.