Tuesday, 18th September 2018
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Speaking following the launch of the Department of Health’s Non Broadcast Media Advertising and Marketing of Food and Non Alcoholic Beverages, including Sponsorship and Retail Product

Placement Voluntary Codes of Practice, Janis Morrissey, Head of Health Promotion, Information and Training with the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) said:

"State-funded research estimates that 85,000 of today’s children on the island of Ireland will die prematurely due to overweight and obesity. This demonstrates an overwhelming need to alter our current course away from what may become the most fatal failure of political will, and of our children, in the history of the State.

"We do not doubt the deep commitment in the Department of Health to genuine action to tackle our obesity crisis and we acknowledge that in recent times there has been important progress, most notably with the introduction in April of the sugar sweetened drinks tax. However, not only is this new voluntary code doomed to failure, it is likely to do more harm than good by delaying real progress in limiting children’s exposure to junk food marketing.

"The simple fact is that voluntary codes don’t work. This has been demonstrated many times in many countries, including a number of failed attempts in the UK, culminating with the Responsibility Deal and the advertising industry’s digital code which been ineffective in regulating online junk food marketing to children in Ireland. The Department of Health’s own regulatory impact analysis of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill also ruled out voluntary regulation.

"Companies that sign up to voluntary codes are not obliged to meet their commitments and experience shows that those which don’t want to modify their behaviour continue to act as irresponsibly as before. Meanwhile compliant firms are put at a competitive disadvantage which is grossly unfair and can only be remedied through the legal level playing field of regulation.

"Whilst an independent body will be appointed to monitor compliance, the only sanction for companies in breach of the code will be a "naming and shaming" mechanism that rarely works according to the World Health Organisation, which has suggested a tougher regulatory approach including high monetary penalties, such as EU data protection fines that can total up to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover.

"As a result, the establishment of a voluntary code is deeply worrying. It’s long established that junk food marketing to children plays a causal role in childhood obesity; we know children are being bombarded with advertisements particularly on digital media; and research shows that children as young as eight are presenting with high blood pressure and young people are showing the early signs of heart disease once only seen in middle age due to growing waistlines.

"But even if such codes did work, this would not change the role of executives in the multinational processed food industry to maximise shareholder wealth, rather than protect children’s health. Selling as much product as possible is obviously an important means of increasing profit, which in turn means children are more likely to be encouraged to overconsume, regardless of the health consequences.

"Given the junk food industry remit it’s not hard to conclude that they and their marketers’ intention in engaging with regulation is to ensure they have to do as little as they can get away with.

"This is backed up by their track record. Five years ago the advertising of junk brands to children on television was partially restricted because of concern over its impact on their health."

"But instead of making genuine efforts to stop targeting kids, they circumvented the regulations so successfully that last year it was established that children in Ireland are

still watching an average of over 1,000 junk brand ads a year on TV alone.

"Worse still, there has been an explosion in digital marketing that’s more personalised, effective and therefore potentially even more damaging. As a result the overall exposure of children to junk brands is probably greater now than ever.

"Of course, it’s the job of these companies and their marketers to be persuasive and they will do their best to convince the public that they are enthusiastic partners in the fight against obesity.

"The charade of a voluntary code is likely to delay effective action by years. What we really need is uncompromising mandatory regulation with stiff financial penalties for those who break the rules. That’s the way we can start to change the future and meet our duty of care to those 85,000 children embarking on lives that will otherwise be dominated by chronic disease and premature death."



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