A research library of key reports on the sports and physical activity sector from a variety of sources.

About This Report:

Since 1975 worldwide obesity has tripled. World Health Organisation (WHO) figures show that in 2016 around 41 million children under the age of 5 and over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were with overweight or obesity: http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight UK figures show an equally disturbing upward trend (OECD, 2017 'Health at a glance 2017:OECD Indicators'. Paris: OECD Publishing). Indeed, in the 1970s when obesity rates began to climb noticeably, there was a mirrored increase in the popularity of convenience (largely frozen) foods and even just a decade later, further food industry advances in both production and increased advertising resulted in an explosion of the availability of ultra-processed, highly refined foods which were easier to prepare (i.e. microwavable meals) and much easier to advertise. Obesity is a multi-factorial disease but an undeniable contributory factor is that consumers are constantly exposed to high-fat, high-sugar, energy-dense foods that they can access 24 hours a day. Indeed, the increased use of innovative strategies in product development means that within the modern-day food environment, consumers are faced with a wide and perplexing choice in terms of what and when to eat. From the manufacturer's viewpoint, marketing is therefore more important than ever before; as is the negative role of food marketing in the escalation of child obesity. Children are preferentially targeted by marketers (Linn SE, 'Food marketing to children in the context of a marketing maelstrom', Journal of Public Health Policy, 2004:25:24-35) because marketing has a three-way beneficial effect on sales to children:  They are independent consumers (pocket money on sweets)  They can exert major influence over family purchases (pester power)  They are future adult consumers whose brand loyalty, if established in youth, can be highly financially rewarding for the company over the lifespan (Story M & French S, 'Food advertising and marketing directed at children and adolescents in the US' Int J Behav Nutr Phy Act 2004: 1: 3-19). The effect of marketing upon children is all too frequently not of benefit to their mental and physical health and wellbeing and their parents and carers are illequipped with the resources to protect them from a daily onslaught that is all the more lethal because it is frequently insidious and 'hiding in plain sight.' For example, one of the key advertising rules is that ads must be obviously recognisable as such and with the explosion in online ads, promotions by 6 bloggers, vloggers and celebrities on social media, this rule is increasingly swerved. Consumers have a right to know when they are the subject of advertising so that they can understand when content is intended to promote a product or brand. If consumers are unaware that they are being targeted by advertising it is not only misleading but also damages trust in advertising. Against such a backdrop, this report will argue that all of us – parents, manufacturers, the 'out of home' sector (e.g. restaurants, cafes, takeaways) retailers, broadcasters, online media, schools and local authorities – need to take responsibility for promoting healthy choices. There is ample evidence to show that despite the existence of voluntary self-regulatory regimes, current approaches to tackling the obesogenic food environment are not only inadequate but in some instances, facilitate and promote it. Food and drink advertising still predominantly promotes the consumption of unhealthy food and drink and the ways in which it does it are extremely persuasive and engaging. It is therefore unsurprising that children respond in accordance – and as intended. It is important in any consideration of marketing to refrain from undue negative bias. There is certainly a pressing need to rectify its many current and obvious deficiencies but it is equally imperative that policy-makers and business concerns adopt the standpoint that marketing has the potential to be a force for good. A basic principle and touchstone of marketing is to understand the needs of the public. This perspective accords well with 'stakeholder engagement' and 'population-based' policy making. The challenge now facing policymakers is to take radical action to protect children and young people, using statutory means in those areas where a predominantly voluntary approach has failed and continues to fail. In this way, individuals can be supported through coherent and sustained implementation of policies that are both evidence-based and population-based and regulation can be devised that at the very least, facilitates the availability of healthier lifestyle choices that are affordable and easily accessible to everyone from all sectors of society.