- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

LONDON — Advertisements for junk food are to be banned during children’s television programs in Britain in an attempt by the government to reduce obesity in the young.

Health Secretary John Reid has decided to take what some call the “nuclear option” of banning companies from targeting children with advertisements for a range from burgers and fries to candy and soft drinks.

Lawmakers in the ruling Labor Party expect an official announcement at their party’s annual conference in Brighton in September.

Mr. Reid’s plan to restrict television advertising follows the publication of a report by a House of Commons health committee, which warned that obesity among the young is rising sharply.

Lawmakers on the committee criticized the government for failing to do enough to tackle the problem.

Mr. Reid responded by telling his officials to draw up new laws banning advertising of junk food during prime-time children’s television, but allowing it to continue during adult programs. Exactly how “junk food” will be defined remains unclear.

Aides said that he was persuaded by arguments that while adults can make “informed choices” about what they eat, this option is not available to younger children.

Some 1,150 advertisements for junk food are shown daily during children’s programs, according to research.

Mr. Reid can expect opposition from Cabinet colleagues, including Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, who has responsibility for broadcasting, and Education Secretary Charles Clarke.

They are said to be concerned that a ban would be seen as the action of a “nanny state.”

An aide of Mr. Reid said: “We are aware that an outright ban is the nuclear option, but we believe it’s one we’ve got to take. The sort of programs we are looking at are those shown at teatime on weekdays and on Saturday mornings.”

A report on public health, which will contain the proposal for a ban, will be published in the fall.

Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “It is disappointing that gesture measures appear to have won over reason. We have seen examples of bans being in force, in Quebec and Sweden for example, but making no difference.

“Playing to the gallery might bring you applause at the Labor Party conference, but it would not bring any benefit to the nation’s children. It would also be a devastating blow to the quality of children’s television. They need the money from advertising to make programs.”

Tim Yeo, the spokesman on health and education for the opposition Conservative Party, urged the government to work with industry to come up with a voluntary code.

“If the government were seen to play its role, then industry would accept a tough voluntary code on how food items were marketed to both children and adults,” he said. “The voluntary approach would avoid the extreme difficulties of definition and enforcement.”

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