Britain holds the title of having the highest rate of childhood obesity in Western Europe. While the reasons why may be complicated, a new poll suggests that people think more emphasis needs to be placed on initiatives and research directed towards the health of children.
Dr. Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics, says the focus of Britain’s health initiatives is typically on the ageing population. While that is obviously important, it means initiatives directed towards children’s health have fallen by the wayside.
“This poll shows that the voting public care as much about child health as they do care for the elderly. I call on the next government to listen to the facts and listen to the public — make child health a priority,” Dr. Cass said in an interview with Daily Mail.
The study also found that more than three in five people would like to see an increase in spending on research to improve children’s health. Nine out of 10 people would like to see better teaching on how to eat healthily at school and three quarters of people want to see more research dedicated to reducing child death rates.
Those results seem obvious though, with very little reason to argue against reducing death rates or providing more funding towards research that helps children. Perhaps the more surprising finding was that almost two thirds of respondents also support banning junk food ads before 9 p.m. Eliminating ads of any products high in fat, salt or sugar before the watershed would greatly reduce children’s exposure to them.
For every hour a child watches television, they are subjected to approximately 12 minutes of advertisements. Children are typically the prime targets for food and drink advertising and its been shown to impact their food preferences and dietary behaviour.
In 2006 the U.K. broke ground internationally in this area by banning food advertising during programmes that were directed towards children under the age of 16. According to WHO by 2009 children were exposed to 37 percent fewer advertisements promoting junk foods and the advertising expenditure for child-themed foods was down by 41 percent.
However, as noted at the time, there are many loopholes in the current regulations that still expose children to a lot of junk food advertising. A new ban on all advertising before 9 p.m. could eliminate the loopholes and reduce the exposure even further. Particularly since parents have much more control over when their children watch TV as opposed to what they are seeing when they are watching it.
There are a series of factors that lead to obesity in children, with food advertising being just one of the many. It’s hard to say whether banning the advertising completely would have a major impact on children when they are still exposed to similar ads through other outlets. However, it can’t hurt.