Should brands that add to the obesity crisis subsidise healthier food options? The Marketing Society Forum

Should brands that add to the obesity crisis subsidise healthier food options? The Marketing Society Forum
Should brands that add to the obesity crisis subsidise healthier food options? The Marketing Society Forum

A recently published medical study forecast that 11m more people in the UK will be obese by 2030, and proposed solutions include a government levy and marketing restrictions on unhealthy food.

YES - Hugh Bishop, Chairman, Meteorite

All food providers and sellers should pay levies of differing amounts, depending on each product's sugar/fat content. This would encourage brands to make 'better' foods.

The obesity issue must be addressed with radical, enforced measures. All money raised from the levy should be put toward education and enforced programmes.

After all, it starts at school: when 1000 children were shown pictures of other children and asked to choose who they would want to be friends with, not one chose the overweight kids.

Obese children should be given help and their parents should be educated and supported. I have just come back from the US, where I saw rows of mobility scooters at Sea World to transport obese people (some of whom couldn't even walk from their cars, God help us). We must be tough to be kind and accept that marketing plays a key role in moulding the future shape of people and the health service alike.

NO - Gareth Richards, Managing director, Ogilvy Prime Contact

The only sensible approach is through the voluntary involvement of the food and beverage industries. The sectors get a lot of bad press, but have worked well to get their houses in better order.

This has been driven by consumer sentiment, not regulation.

It would be unrealistic to select those foods that should incur a financial penalty. It is easy to target fast-food chains, for instance, but at my local fish and chip shop the queue is always around the block when school turns out.

The government's role has to be to keep educating to change behaviour. The big retailers have played a part in this, by differentiating themselves through healthy ranges, better labelling and fresh ingredients.

The sector is ripe for an industry-funded body that does the sort of excellent work undertaken in the alcoholic drinks industry by Drinkaware. The food companies that championed such an idea would enhance their reputations, and no serious player could remain outside it.

YES - Paul Hamilton, Managing director, Addiction London

Brands do not hesitate to claim credit for positive effects on consumers and society, so it is hypocritical for them to eschew responsibility for negative consequences, however unintended.

Subsidising healthier foods is the least that might be expected of companies that manufacture and market products with nutritional content so far from healthy norms, that health warnings and severe marketing restrictions might be more appropriate.

That it has come to the point where this is even being considered is itself a damning indictment of producers, and a communications industry that has all too often been a willing accomplice in the promotion of food products with no place in any balanced and healthy diet.

Without controls, commercial pressures always seem to overwhelm broader concerns; perhaps enforced behaviour change will halt this process, if only by reassuring producers that their rivals are subject to the same restrictions.

YES - Vince Mitchell, Professor of consumer marketing, Cass Business School

It makes sense, so long as it is not the only mechanism to tackle obesity and includes all food providers, such as restaurants, in-company catering and supermarkets.

The reasons why people eat too much and exercise too little require a multi-intervention approach. Assuming that the results will be changes to the retail prices of these foods and food companies creating more products that won't be taxed, these will help consumers make healthier choices.

The logic is similar to a pollution or carbon tax. We already tax other things that are bad for our health, such as alcohol and tobacco. However, while I agree in principle, I think the idea would fail in practice, because it is too complicated to administer fairly.

Nonetheless, if brands don't help to tackle the problem somehow, our nation really will be the biggest loser.


The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership.


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