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Time for action on junk food

Professor Norah Campbell, assistant professor in business at Trinity Business School, makes the case in her letter to the editor of the Irish Times for stronger regulations on junk food advertising.

February 15th, 2019

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Sir, – On Valentine’s Day last year, the Minister of State for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne launched a voluntary code of responsible guidelines for online junk food marketing to children. It was deemed a vital “first step” to reduce children’s exposure to adver-gaming, sponsored competitions, anthropomorphised branding, digital footprint tracking and other bewildering strategies in the new online world of stimulating a desire for junk food.

These guidelines were drawn up in collaboration with the food industry.

But where are they a year on? The delay, apparently, is a “technical document” that industry actors need to guide them in their compliance – a document that could have easily been created during the two-year set of negotiations.

But this delay might be advantageous: a Lancet report last month concludes that self-regulation is ineffective and that “vested interests constitute a major source of policy inertia that prevents change to the existing systems”. The report conclusively advises governments that food industry self-regulation only functions to delay more effective strategies, exactly as has happened with this voluntary code.

Here we’d like to propose a win-win solution: a stronger regulatory environment would actually be a relief to the lobbyists, marketers and advertisers working in the junk food industry: it would clarify their roles and remits and relieve them of the strain of finding ways to circumvent these vague obligations in order to maximise shareholder value.

It would absolve them of the moral dilemmas they must inevitably encounter during their working day. – Yours, etc,

NORAH CAMPBELL,

Trinity Business School,

Trinity College Dublin;

Prof FRANCIS FINUCANE,

Consultant

Endocrinologist,

Galway University

Hospitals.