Does the UK promotion of food and drink to children contribute to their obesity?

Ambler, TFJ (2004) Does the UK promotion of food and drink to children contribute to their obesity? Working Paper. London Business School Centre for Marketing Working Paper.


Amid the international concern with childhood obesity and the contributing factors, the UK is providing a lively debate. The UK Food Standards Agency has been seeking reliable academic advice and commissioned the Hastings Study “to examine the current research evidence on: · the extent and nature of food promotion to children · the effect, if any, that this promotion has on their food knowledge, preferences and behaviour.” Contemporaneously, the UK Advertising Association, through its Food Advertising Unit, commissioned other studies that reached different conclusions. This paper reviewed all these contributions to ascertain how much could be inferred, and with what level of reliability, as the basis for national policy making. The paper’s first conclusion is that considering the effect of branded food and drink promotions outside their socioeconomic and cultural context is unreliable. Secondly, whilst there are promotional effects at the brand level but the evidence for promotional effects at the level of product category or overall diet is thin at best. Reanalysing the data provided in the Hastings Study shows that their assertions about category and diet effects do not appear to be well founded. The dialectic process to which these studies have been subjected by the FSA, and their public reports, also gives rise to concern. Searching for the common ground, which seems considerable, would be more constructive. The Hastings Study, as qualified in this paper, provides a reliable basis for some, but not all, decisions about future national policy. The FSA would be well advised to work with the food, drink and advertising industries to review codes of practice and what these industries can do to alleviate the child obesity problem. As Scotland appears to have demonstrated, schools have a crucial role here, not just school dinners but in physical activities and getting to and from school. Perhaps most directly, the government should consider prohealth promotions targeted at the socioeconomic and demographic groups most in need of support. This paper concludes, as the Hastings Study itself does, that the positive aspects of promotion may prove a major part of a successful programme for child obesity reduction.

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Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Subject Areas: Marketing
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2023 15:18
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2023 18:46

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