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Stricter rules needed on junk food ads targeted at children

Tough new controls must be introduced worldwide to stop commercial companies marketing unhealthy foods and drinks which make children overweight and stunt their growth, say some of the world’s leading obesity experts.

No country has yet reversed its obesity epidemic, they point out in a major new series of six papers in the Lancet medical journal. The best that has been achieved is a flattening of childhood obesity rates in countries like the US and UK, but not among poorer families. The levels are still very high, which means that many thousands of overweight children will have health problems as adults. In England, a third of 10- to 11-year-olds and more than a fifth of four- to five-year-olds are overweight or obese.

With such high sums at stake, says the paper, the food industry is likely to resist controls in the same way that the tobacco and alcohol industries have.

Children’s poor nutrition worldwide – including in the UK– leads to stunting as well as obesity. It is not only in poor countries that stunting – poor growth in children eating food without sufficient nutrients – exists side by side with obesity. The authors point out that the national school measurement programme in England shows children in poor households are not only likely to be fatter but also shorter than children in affluent families.

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