Why the UK Government should not delay on new marketing restrictions for high fat, salt and sugar foods

Dr Nathan Critchlow, Research Fellow, Institute for Social Marketing, Faulty of Health Sciences and Sport

As part of their Childhood Obesity Strategy, the UK Government recently held two consultations about introducing new marketing restrictions for food and drinks that are high in fat, salt, and/or sugar (hereafter HFSS foods). The first focused on restricting price promotions (e.g. buy one, get one free) and placement in retailers (e.g. at checkouts). The second proposed new restrictions on advertising, such as limiting television and online advertising to between 21:00 and 05:30. The results of these consultations were due to be announced early 2020, although are presently delayed because of the Covid-19 epidemic.

At the Cancer Policy Research Centre, Cancer Research UK, we commissioned a portfolio of research to inform these consultations. This included the Youth Obesity Policy Survey, an online cross-sectional survey with 3,348 11-19 years old from across the UK. In our latest paper, we present new data from this survey as a public response to the consultations. In doing so, we reinforce why the proposed restrictions are required and the UK Government should not delay on their implementation.

How often do adolescents see marketing for HFSS foods?

We asked adolescents how often they recalled seeing marketing for HFSS foods through ten different activities, with answers for each ranging from ‘not in the last month’ to ‘everyday’. Nine out of ten adolescents reported seeing marketing through at least one activity. Television adverts, social media adverts, and special price offers were the marketing activities most frequently reported. Around two-thirds of adolescents recalled seeing marketing through these activities at least weekly, while around one-in-six reported that they saw these marketing activities every day. Importantly, these are the marketing activities considered in the recent consultations.

We also converted the frequency of awareness reported for each activity into an estimate of how much marketing each participant had seen in total over the past month. Half of adolescents reported seeing 70 or more instances of marketing for HFSS foods in the past month; equivalent to 2-3 instances per day. A third reported seeing 105 or more instances; equivalent to seeing 3-4 instances per day.

What is the association between awareness of marketing and consumption?

We asked adolescents how often they consumed 15 food and drink products, with answers ranging from ‘never’ to ‘several times per day’. This included 12 HFSS food and drinks (e.g. cakes and biscuits), and three that were not (e.g. fruit and vegetables). For each group, consumption was categorised as either higher or lower weekly consumption.

We found that past-month awareness of marketing was associated with higher weekly consumption for 10 of the 12 HFSS foods, even after accounting for demographic factors and weight status. For example, those reporting high awareness of marketing for HFSS foods in the past month were 2.3 times more likely to report higher weekly consumption of sugary drinks, compared to those reporting medium or low marketing awareness.

What are the implications?

Research consistently suggests a causal link between exposure to marketing for HFSS foods and consumption, nutritional knowledge, and diet-related health among young people. Assuming this to be true, our findings therefore suggest that the restrictions proposed in the Government consultations are likely to help reduce HFSS consumption.

Although there is limited real-world evidence on the success of statutory measures, this should not be a deterrent to implementation. Instead, implementation would provide an excellent opportunity to generate much-needed real-world evidence on how statutory controls shape marketing awareness, consumption of HFSS foods, and overweight and obesity prevalence.

Access the full article here: ‘Awareness of marketing for high fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) foods, and the association with higher weekly consumption among adolescents: A rejoinder to the UK Government’s consultations on marketing regulation‘ by Nathan Critchlow, Linda Bauld, Christopher Thomas, Lucie Hooper and Jyotsna Vohra.

This blog is kindly re-posted from the Cambridge Core Blog. You can read the original post, and other interesting content at https://www.cambridge.org/core/blog/2020/06/09/why-the-uk-government-should-not-delay-on-new-marketing-restrictions-for-high-fat-salt-and-sugar-foods/

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