Pressure builds on food industry

Tessa Jowell and a report from the World Health Organisation have further raised the stakes in the obesity crisis

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell has called on the beleaguered food industry to follow the alcohol industry's example and set up its own self-regulation body.

Addressing the Westminster Diet and Health Forum last week, Jowell urged food advertisers to use their creativity to help solve the UK's obesity crisis. 'The challenge to the food industry is to use some of your creative millions to help the government sell the (healthy eating) message. Join with us and we can achieve so much more.'

Jowell said there was 'potential' for the food industry to set up something similar to the alcohol industry's Portman Group.

She acknowledged that 'there is a lot of public concern and pressure over the advertising of snack foods' and admitted that 'government solutions must be effective and proportional'.

Jowell refused to echo criticism levelled at sports stars such as Gary Lineker over their endorsement of snack foods. 'I'm not going to tell David Beckham or Paula Radcliffe what they can or can't promote,' she said.

Her comments preceded news that a select committee will publish a report this week proposing that celebrities be banned from advertising fast food unless they also use their status to promote healthy products.

Jowell did acknowledge that advertisers should look for constructive ways of making use of 'enormously persuasive sporting heroes' to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Despite criticism of Cadbury's controversial Get Active initiative voiced by fellow minister Melanie Johnson, Jowell said the Department for Culture Media and Sport did not disassociate itself from the scheme.

Johnson, the minister for public health, had slammed the initiative, which encouraged children to collect chocolate wrappers in return for school sports equipment, adding that the Department of Health did not support it.

PepsiCo president Martin Glenn, speaking at the forum, said that marketing a healthy lifestyle was 'at the centre' of the company's procedures.

Food Standards Agency chairman Sir John Krebs suggested TV advertisers could get together to sponsor ads promoting healthy eating.

Earlier in the day, Professor Gerard Hastings, director of the centre for social marketing at the University of Strathclyde, spoke of marketing as a 'public health tool we can use to our advantage'.

He said his report into the causes of obesity, the Hastings report, suggested that banning TV ads for fast food to children would be 'fragmentary and ineffective'.

THE FUTURE

- Food marketers will get a more detailed steer on planning strategies today (Wednesday) with the publication of the Health Select Committee's report on fighting obesity.

- Backbenchers are likely to call for more stringent labelling on products, as well as action to reduce portion sizes in fast-food restaurants.

- The most influential report will emerge this summer when the FSA publishes its action plan on food promotion and kids' diets.

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