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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
MP angry over TV food ads
Fast food
Ms Shipley is concerned about childhood obesity

Fizzy drinks and unhealthy, sugar-laden snacks should not be advertised during television programmes for pre-school children, according to a Labour MP.

Debra Shipley says the images of burgers, biscuits, crisps and high fat nibbles can only contribute to the onset of obesity in later life.

Allowing the adverts to appear between programmes watched by the under-fives counters the government's efforts to encourage healthy eating, she says.

I think it's a cynical exploitation of young children and it makes me very angry
Debra Shipley

Now Ms Shipley hopes ministers will listen to her arguments and back her Children's Television (Advertising) Bill, which will outlaw food and drink advertising during pre-school children's TV programmes.

The Stourbridge MP, responsible for the Protection of Children Act 1999, is supported by more than 130 MPs, the National Heart Forum and Parents Jury, part of the Food Commission.


"While I agree children should take more exercise, they should also be careful about what they put in their mouths," says Ms Shipley, whose bill will be heard on 6 May.

"I would like to see all food and drink adverts banned during pre-school programmes.

"We are talking about foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt - value added products that make the most money.

Fast food
Children become 'very brand aware'

"Children develop an interest in that particular sort of food - that is why it is being advertised. It's about brand awareness that may last for the rest of their lives. Whatever brand it is, it is bad.

"Advertisers will say they don't know who is watching the programmes, but their marketing people have a very clear idea."

Ms Shipley says a sample group of parents she asked to monitor the advertising between pre-school programmes were "absolutely appalled at what they found".

Healthy eating

"They couldn't believe the enormous amount of advertising for food and drink," she says.

"There was no chance of parental control. Children were being bombarded with the stuff.

"I am very concerned about this because we have an increasing problem of childhood obesity and diabetes."

Any form of broadcast advertised when children are most likely to be watching needs to be done responsibly
Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman

Ms Shipley says she has taken this argument to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and Health Secretary Alan Milburn, but has been disappointed with their response.

"The Department of Health is currently running a programme to encourage healthy eating in children which I think is being entirely undermined by this advertising," she says.

"I pointed this out to both secretaries of state and nothing is being done about it.

"I have been very disappointed because this is a very serious issue."

'Considerable problem'

A spokeswoman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said it would be "inappropriate" to comment without knowing the contents of the bill.

But she said: "We do agree that any form of broadcast advertised when children are most likely to be watching needs to be done responsibly."

The Department of Health was unavailable for comment.

Debra Shipley
Shipley: Food and drink should be banned from pre-school TV adverts

But Jane Landon, associate director of the National Heart Forum - an alliance of over 40 national organisations working to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in the UK - said Ms Shipley had identified "a considerable problem".

"I think she's got a very good point. We don't want the current marketing trends to undermine the healthy eating initiatives, like the school fruit scheme, like the five a day programme," said Ms Landon.

"About 90% of what is being advertised during these programmes is foods that are very high in fat, salt and sugar.

"I think there is an ethical consideration about whether it is appropriate to be advertising to children that young, particularly as we know it has an effect on their choices and dietary patterns."

'Toy shop'

Kath Dalmeny, research officer for the Food Commission (FC), said its Parents Jury (PJ) of over 1,300 parents believed the advertising ban should be extended to all children's programmes, regardless of the age of young viewers.

"Advertisers do not focus on the food, they talk about the free toys, games, excitement, bright colours and adventure, so very positive values are being associated with these products," said Ms Dalmeny.

"Parents say the child really wants to take part in the adventure or wants the toy.

"One parent reported that her four-year-old child thought a burger bar was a toy shop."

Ms Dalmeny said fast food tended to be "extremely high in fat", with a single portion containing double the salt a child should have in a single day.

Some breakfast cereals contained 30-40% sugar, with juice drinks containing five to six spoonfuls of sugar, but as little as 5% fruit juice, she said.

"Getting used to that kind of diet means children are then prone to heart disease and cancers in later life."

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