RCPI Policy Group on Obesity calls for ban on advertising sugar sweetened drinks to children

Under 12s most vulnerable to targeted marketing campaigns such as Share a Coke

Ireland could soon top Europe’s obesity tables and become a nation with the highest number of obese men, women and children. Official predictions suggest Ireland is facing an obesity epidemic with 90 per cent of the population expected to be overweight or obese by 2030 unless we take drastic policy measures.

Today two out of every three adults and one in four Irish children are overweight or obese. In its first policy paper The Race We Don’t Want to Win, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Policy Group on Obesity says it is now time to protect vulnerable children in particular from slick advertising and marketing campaigns to promote foods and drinks that contribute to obesity by imposing a ban.

Professor Donal O’Shea, consultant endocrinologist and co-chair of the policy group on obesity said: “Action to address the obesity epidemic must approach this issue from the earliest stages.  We must give our children the best chance for a healthy diet and lifestyle. This means, among other things, that children should be protected from advertising and marketing of foods and drinks known to increase overweight and obesity.

“We cannot expect that industry will take this responsibility on itself. The ‘share a coke’ campaign is one example of this- Coca Cola has an expressed commitment not to market its products to under 12s, yet almost all of the 100 most popular names of 7-8 year olds are included in their campaign.

“This is the food and drinks industry at its best – a hugely successful campaign – and one that fails to meet Coca Cola’s own standards for responsible marketing. The consumption of sugar sweetened drinks is a major driver of childhood weight – and as such there should be a ban on the marketing of these, and similar products, to children.”

Dr O’Shea said: “Obesity already costs the state billions every year. Can we afford not to ban irresponsible and harmful advertising to children?”

Prof Catherine Hayes, Specialist in Public Health and Co-chair of the policy group said: “Children, especially those under the age of 12, are particularly vulnerable to this type of promotion, but the drivers of the obesity epidemic are multiple and require action on various fronts.  In addition to adopting a stricter stance in relation to marketing of food to children, there is a need to prioritise healthy eating and physical activity particularly in education settings.

“There are things we can do also, as health professionals- for example providing consistent, clear and helpful advice on diet and exercise from before conception, through pregnancy and in the infancy period. We can help to support and encourage breastfeeding, which has proven benefits for the weight of the child, and we can make every contact count by conducting weight measurement and providing relevant advice in a sensitive manner.”

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Policy Group on Obesity includes doctors and other health experts who have worked together to share their knowledge and propose actions to address this disease.

The group’s recommendations range from public policy measures to encourage healthier eating and physical activity, to actions and example-setting in healthcare, education and community settings and actions and training for health professionals themselves. They include:

Public Policy Measures

    •    A ban on television advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar up to 9pm and a ban on marketing these foods to children.
    •    Government monitoring of all approaches to food marketing, sponsorship and brand management directly or indirectly aimed at children
    •    The introduction of a 20 per cent tax on sugar sweetened drinks in Budget 2015

Healthcare, education and community settings

    •    Adoption of “weight aware” ethos in all clinical services
    •    Providing at least 60 per cent of health options in food service facilities and only health options in children’s units
    •    Use of profile and influence of sporting organisations and sportspeople in communities to promote physical activity and consumption of health, rather than unhealthy food and drinks.

Health Professionals

    •    Record obesity as a cause of death on medical certificates
    •    Make weight measurement standard practice with each professional contact
    •    Emphasise the benefits to mental wellbeing of being a healthy weight

Training of health professionals

    •    The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland should develop an educational programme around weight management for all health professionals
    •    The establishment of a national multi-disciplinary weight management training group to incorporate weight management training in medical education                        curricula
    •    Establish an Advance Nurse Practitioner role in the care of obese patients

Prof John Crowe, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland welcomed the recommendations and said the College incorporates weight management within its postgraduate medical training programmes for doctors. “Obesity is a serious national problem which starts in childhood, and we are confident that these recommendations can support the Government in the achievement of the goals of Healthy Ireland. The College is a strong advocate for measures to improve public health and patient care and is constantly refining its training programmes and courses to ensure we are giving our doctors and healthcare workers the highest standard of training and experience to effectively deal with the evolving needs of Irish society.”

Download the full policy paper here.

Yvonne McCahill, Media Executive, 01 8639627/085 8502005