UCC’s Head of Public Health has called for a complete ban on all junk food advertising that is targeting children.
Professor Ivan Perry, a leading figure on the childhood obesity crisis, said: “We should have a complete ban on any food advertising that is clearly targeting children, whether it be broadcast or social media.”
The obesity expert made the comments following a recent study which revealed that 22% of Irish nine-year-olds are overweight or obese.
The figure was revealed in the Growing Up In Ireland study conducted by the ESRI and Trinity College Dublin. It found that only a quarter of nine-year-olds reached the recommended level of physical activity, which is at least 60 minutes every day. 15% of all nine-year-olds spent two or more hours watching TV or DVDs on weekdays, 17% were overweight and 5% were obese. The study also found that 23% of nine-year-olds had an online profile, like a gaming or social media account.
Mr Perry said the figures were no surprise and said while the tax on sugary foods and drinks was a welcome development, we need to go further and highlighted the area of junk food marketing. “We are in a country that has passed a children rights amendment and that children have a right to live and grow up in an environment that is not saturated in the marketing of food that is detrimental to their health and wellbeing.”
Referencing the figures, Mr Perry said that a rate of one-in-five means there is a significant minority of children with a level of obesity that is causing them anguish and pain on a daily basis. “There is a group of children who have severe problems and that we have a duty and obligation as a society to make a food environment that protects children.”
Mr Perry dismissed the idea that the food choices of a child are entirely up to a parent.
“People will say that it is down to the parent, but giving the environment we have, the parent is almost powerless, to a significant extent.
“It stems from the food environment that we have created where the portion sizes for children are much bigger and the actual cost of unhealthy food has fallen and there are opportunities to eat woven into every event.”