Junk thinking

I saw this on television yesterday but couldn’t find anything about it online — although the video is here. Now Robert Sharp has directed me to a couple of pages on this issue.

It seems as though the regulations surrounding advertising junk food are about to be tightened further. Yesterday adverts for junk food were banned during programmes aimed at 16-year-olds and under.

But Netmums reckon this isn’t enough — they want such adverts to be banned until after 9pm! That’s right. Tomato ketchup is on an equal footing with blood and guts. Baps with burgers in them are now as offensive as bare baps.

An incredible fact appears in the Telegraph article as well. If breast milk were to be advertised, it would also be classed as junk food. These new regulations are not intended to do any real good at all. They are just designed to placate the authoritarian parents who think the answer to the world’s ills is more government legislation.

This ban will be completely counter-productive. It is against the interests of children. It is estimated that children’s channels could lose as much as 15% of their revenue as a result. Children’s programming has already seen an appreciable decline in quality. Terrestrial channels have begun to shunt off their children’s programming to various graveyard slots like 5am, to begrudgingly meet the quota.

The new advertising restrictions will accelerate this trend. It wouldn’t surprise me to see some children’s channels begin to go out of business. No doubt Netmums would then be complaining about the lack of decent children’s programming, but it would be partly their fault.

I don’t doubt that junk food is a problem. But is it caused by advertising? Surely only tangentially.

I have always been sceptical about the power of advertising. I spent a huge chunk of my childhood obsessively watching Formula 1 and I never became a smoker or a problem drinker. I’m sure advertising works — otherwise firms wouldn’t do it. But surely it is more about brand recognition than forming habits.

The real cause of the junk food problem is right under parents’ noses — but they can’t bear to accept it. If parents are worried about junk food, there is a simple solution that they can all apply. Don’t feed your children junk food.

It shouldn’t be difficult. If you are too weak-willed say “no” to your child’s requests for junk food, you are not doing your job as a parent.

The Netmums campaign is symptomatic of a wider problem with society. There is not a hint of Netmums suggesting that parents take personal responsibility for the upbringing of their children. Instead, they lobby the government to ensure that their preferred solutions are imposed on everyone — regardless of anyone else’s views on the matter.

The approach is summed up by a quote on the Netmums website.

The amount of ‘junk’ food advertising aimed specifically at children (especially during children’s programmes) is of particular concern to me. This advertising does work (with brand recognition), as my children ask me to buy the foods they have seen advertised.

Oh, and I take it you said no to your children? If not, then take some responsibility and do your job as a parent. If so, then congratulations! You have solved the problem yourself — without having to resort to yet more needless and counter-productive government legislation.

I would like to see a total ban on highly processed foods being promoted to young children (in shops and in the media) and instead see healthy foods advertised (fruit, vegetables, wholemeal bread etc.) using the same type of well-known characters, catchy jingles etc.

So not only does this person want to force junk food manufacturers to stop promoting their products (even in shops!), she also wants to force healthy food companies to advertise!

Nice try getting that to work, but some economic realities are working against you there. If fruit companies found it beneficial to advertise with catchy jingles, they would be doing it already. Perhaps if it is such a great — and financially viable — idea, then Netmums could buy the slots and advertise healthy foods themselves.

The reality? The junk food ban means that children’s television channels are now courting car manufacturers to fill the rather hefty gap (ahem) left by the junk food companies.

As Robert Sharp suggests though, developments in the future (and even in the present) will be even more sinister. Companies will start to resort to more subliminal (and therefore harder to police) forms of advertising such as product placement. And junk food manufacturers are now diverting their substantial advertising budgets (which won’t disappear just because Netmums would like them to) to the increasingly popular children’s websites.


  1. do you think banning the junk food ads is gonna do good to the society, No I don’t think so…children can even demand for junk food if they see anyone eating them or if they see in the stores. I think government should try some other tactics to ban junk food…

  2. Just more things we’ve taken from over the Atlantic:

    No matter what, it’s always someone else who is to blame.

    And there’s always someone there ready with the red rubber stamp to ban things, a favourite of labour.

  3. The idea of having a ban on advertising junk food I think is rather a naive one , as you’ve done a good job of explaining.I’d also like to suggest that if we are going to go down this road then perhaps all advertisements around childrens’ programming should be banned altogether , on the basis that it encourages materialism in kids.(remembers Pokemon trading cards back in year 6 of primary school).

    I agree with you that the real problem is that people just seem to play the lapdog subservient to the food companies etc and will just lap up whatever’s advertised to them.Then the companies just push more ads to get people buying more stuff to push up their revenues.I don’t see how a government is going to stop this with silly irrelevant legislation.

  4. Don’t you just love the UK’s “Hide it…and all will be well” approach?

    Hide junk food from kids tv and they’ll never care for junk food.

    Hide anything remotely sex-related from being on tv when kids can see it and underage pregnancy will be no more.

    Hide alcohol sponsorship from kids football tops if the little’uns want to play in a tournament (I had to wear my liverpool top inside out due to the Carlsberg logo) and alcoholism among the footballing-classes will cease to be.

    Toxic’s comment is right on the money. Labour are quite happy jumping on the banned-wagon to make it look like they can make a difference. But you just have to look at drugs as the perfect example of how banning the advertising of products will not cure such problems.

    Pills, weed, crack? Seen those ads in the middle of Corrie recently? Are these ‘industries’ still raking in the cash despite an ad ban? You bet your favourite Happy Meal they are.

    Thousands upon thousands of drug addicts up and down the country, a problem Labour cannot solve just by banning anything. Education, might be a good start, both on drugs and on fatty foods, on tv, in the playgrounds and most importantly, in the homes of these ridiculous people on netmums. But that doesn’t give Labour their image of…

    Labour: it may not work, but at least we’re always doing something, now.

  5. Brilliant comments! Thanks for posting, and welcome to this blog if you’re new.

    I love the term “banned-wagon”. I must use it in future. It’s even better than bansturbation. 😀

  6. I agree with the comment about parents saying no to junk food.But that only works while the parent is there and buying the food.School dinners ,shops ,friends houses are all up to your childs choice. You can feed your child the healthiest diet known to man but without teaching them a common sense approach to food they could be eating chocolate bars as soon as they leave your home. A packet of crisps or a chocolate bar a day on their own would cause no problems at all as long as the child is mobile and runs around, plays sports basically gets up from the chair and does some exercise.

  7. I hate censorship and this just smacks of the ridiculous. Whatever happened to parental guidance?

    Luckily we live in a world of choice. We can choose to eat junk or not to. The only problem with junk food arises when we eat too much of the stuff and this is true for virtually all foods. Moderation!

    The truth is that kids like something or hate it and no amount of advertising will change this. Sadly most enjoy burgers and other junk foods but they also enjoy chocolate. Again the answer is moderation. Chocolate is a treat and, in my family so is a burger meal at our local junk food store.

    My kids are now 12 and 16 and they are more likely to order a healthy meal than grab a burger. They understand the dangers of eating badly so, besides moderation, education is important. The UK government obviously finds it far easier to ban something rather than invest in decent education and other methods of decreasing recent trends in the increases in childhood obeisity.

    Now that is pure laziness.