Academic helping to inform Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan

Dr Emma Boyland

Dr Emma Boyland, Senior Psychology Lecturer based in the Institute’s Appetite and Obesity research group, has been invited to be expert witness providing oral evidence on the problem of childhood obesity with the Health and Social Care Select Committee (HSCC) at the Palace of Westminster.

Studies by Dr Boyland and the research group have demonstrated that television food advertising exposure alters children’s food preferences in the direction of high fat, high sugar snack foods and also increases their consumption of these sorts of foods.

Last year Dr Boyland helped produce a report commissioned by the Obesity Health Alliance, entitled ‘A ‘Watershed’ Moment: Why it’s Prime Time to Protect Children from Junk Food Adverts’, that showed almost six in ten food and drink adverts shown during family programmes popular with children are for ‘junk food’ such as fast food, takeaways and confectionery.

Dr Boyland, said: “The first draft of the Government’s obesity plan disappointingly did not feature further restrictions on the advertising of unhealthy foods to children. This invitation gives me the ideal opportunity to highlight to policymakers why that was a mistake, and why the evidence base strongly supports its inclusion in the new iteration of the plan to be released later this year.

“Current regulations focus disproportionately on advertising around programming designed for or targeted at children, such as dedicated children’s channels. However, data from the broadcast regulator themselves (OfCom) shows that children spend a majority of their viewing time outside of such programming, instead watching family viewing and more generic entertainment shows such as The Voice where food advertising is far less restricted. We have new voluntary codes for non-broadcast marketing (e.g. online and outdoors) but there are real concerns about how these rules will be monitored and enforced in practice.

“One in five children in the UK are overweight or obese at school entry (4-5 years), and this rises to one in three by Year 6 (10-11 years). Addressing the influence of the ‘obesogenic’ environment (including the abundant, persuasive promotion of unhealthy foods to our children) is a key approach for tackling childhood obesity, and is an area in which action could and should be taken now.

“Getting a commitment to reviewing and improving the efficacy of food marketing regulations in the new obesity plan would be a real step forward for tackling the obesogenic environment in the UK. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to make clear to policymakers just how important it is that they engage with this issue and put policies in place that will start to make the healthy choice the easier choice for children and families”

Dr Boyland will appear at the Health and Social Care Select Committee on Tuesday, 8 May.

More information can be found here.

Dr Boyland’s podcast in which she discusses the loopholes in TV regulations can be found here.

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