Viewpoint: Labour caps on fat, salt and sugar in food marketed to children

University research has shown that food marketing promotes consumption of unhealthy foods

Dr Emma Boyland is a Lecturer in appetite and obesity at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society

“At the Labour Party’s health policy launch  today, Andy Burnham MP and Luciana Berger MP will outline their plans to set maximum limits on the levels of fat, salt and sugar in food marketed to children if voted into Government.


It is promising to see this acknowledgement of the role of food marketing in driving unhealthy dietary choices and consumption patterns in children.

Our research has shown that the food marketing children are exposed to predominantly promotes consumption of foods high in those undesirable nutrients, with barely a mention for the healthier options that should comprise a large proportion of their diet.

Furthermore, we know from our experimental studies that children do respond to this marketing by increasing their consumption and that this is of all unhealthy snack foods, not just those shown in the advertising.

Food marketing is engaging and persuasive, it is not surprising that parents struggle to instill a healthy approach to food in the face of these messages encouraging children to consider unhealthy foods fun and their overconsumption as without consequence.

Mandatory regulation

Parents need support to teach children what a healthy diet constitutes, not the parent-child friction that develops as a result of marketing driving demand for tasty but health damaging products (the well-known ‘pester power’ effect).

There will inevitably be talk of a ‘nanny state’ in response to these calls but in my view, it is important that political leaders recognise that ours is an ‘obesity-promoting’ environment, which has led to around a third of UK children being classed as either overweight or obese, and recognise that mandatory regulation is the best way forward if we are to effect real, meaningful change at this level.

Voluntary proposals are never going to be suitably effective, when they are designed, implemented and monitored by the very industry whose bottom line for shareholders relies on food marketing successfully influencing child consumers towards purchasing, demanding and consuming their products.”

I welcome these proposals, and look forward to hearing more details about Labour’s plans to drive positive change for health in the UK food environment.”

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