DEBATE: Will blocking junk food ads on social media help to tackle childhood obesity?

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Nearly one in five children start primary school with a weight classified as overweight or obese (Source: Getty)

Will blocking junk food ads on social media help to tackle childhood obesity?

Caroline Cerny, alliance lead at the Obesity Health Alliance, says YES.

Advertising works. The food industry wouldn’t spend millions of pounds a year on advertising if it wasn’t effective.

When it comes to children, there is clear evidence that shows the food adverts children see influence the foods they choose and how much food they eat. There are already some restrictions on junk food advertising around TV programmes specifically designed for children, and we are pushing for this to be extended to all family shows. But even with these limits, there is a clear gap: online content and social media.

This is clearly an area that needs to be tackled. Currently, nearly one in five children start primary school with a weight classified as overweight or obese, rising to one in three when they leave. If the obesity epidemic isn’t stopped, millions of children will be storing up future health problems – including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers.

While blocking junk food ads on social media won’t solve obesity on its own, it’s a vital step to protect children and give them chance of a healthier future.

Read more: The sugar tax is an ineffectual way to price the externalities of obesity

Steve Hastings is planning director at London-based creative agency isobel.

While it’s fun giving children a treat every so often, no one sensible wants them to over-indulge in foods that might harm them. That makes it easy to answer yes to the question, but I’m going to argue no, on the basis that a proper long-term approach to tackling childhood obesity will not be best served by cutting down one tall poppy.

Kids are going to be exposed to many more influences on food besides social media ads – advertising on TV, out-of-home marketing, and what their friends are eating, to name just a few.

A proper attitude to junk food should be formed in the home and at school, with the aim of giving children an idea of a good diet for life.

We need to attack obesity with joined-up thinking, and not get our heads turned by seemingly easy targets.

Otherwise we’ll be like Donald Trump, firing off randomly with no apparent strategy. You can imagine his tweet: “Social media BAD! Stop food ads NOW! Problem solved!”

But it won’t be.

Read more: Rules governing junk food ads to be reviewed by CAP

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