LONDON, Aug. 4 (Xinhua) -- The coronavirus pandemic has thrust the obesity conversation into the limelight, and now the British government has announced new measures to curb obesity rates.
Those measures include a ban on TV and online advertisement for food high in fat, sugar and salt before 9 p.m. (2000 GMT), and end of deals like "buy one get one free" on unhealthy food high in salt, sugar and fat.
Though a number of organisations related to obesity praised the measures, public opinion appeared to be split on the plans. One pre-school teacher from London told Xinhua that her children recognised the McDonald's logo before they knew their surname, suggesting that the advertising restrictions could be positive for children.
Whereas a self-declared overweight man told Xinhua that his reason for being overweight was not due to advertisement, but to the fact that junk food was readily available in supermarkets and stores.
Emma Boyland, a senior lecturer in psychological sciences at the University of Liverpool, whose research mainly focuses on the effects of food promotion on children's food preferences, choices and ingestive behaviour in regards to obesity, said the government's plans were a step in the right direction.
"I think each individual policy in itself is going to turn around the obesity rates. But each of them have a part to play, and each of them are taking a step to a healthier food environment," Boyland told Xinhua.
"A 9 p.m. watershed on unhealthy food advertising on television is not going to sort out obesity overnight but it's one way in which we can start to reduce the number of triggers and persuasive messaging we see around to consume unhealthy foods and stop that normalisation process," said Boyland.
Meanwhile, for Matthew Evans, head of corporate affairs at the Advertising Association, the restrictions were being introduced at the "worst possible time" as businesses start to return to their places of work and the economy is beginning to reopen.
"We don't think it's a good idea at all, we think it's misguided and unfounded. It will have very little effect on reducing obesity levels in the UK," Evans told Xinhua.
"Rules governing high fat salt and sugar products have been around in various forms for around 15 years now and during that time obesity levels among people and children have continued to rise. It demonstrates that perhaps advertising is not at fault, but many other factors which are influencing the obesity levels that we see in this country," Evans said.
OBESITY AND CORONAVIRUS
So why are the government introducing these measures now? Boyland suggests that for the first time, the public are seeing the immediate effects of being obese.
"We've known for a while that there are health risks with excess weight, but I think they're seen as quite long term," she said.
"What we're seeing now is the first time that people are seeing obesity as an acute problem, an acute risk to life. If I get coronavirus now my body weight is going to determine how severe my symptoms are, and my chance of surviving this thing," she said.
Britain's problem with obesity has increased a "tremendous amount in the last few decades," Boyland added.
One in four children will be overweight or obese when they start primary school at the age of four or five, and that will likely go up to one in three by the time they leave primary school, said Boyland, adding that two thirds of adults were now considered overweight or obese in Britain.
"Although eating is a behaviour and an individual choice, it's influenced by a whole raft of things to do with commercial exposure is one, but also availability, accessibility and affordability of healthy foods," she said.
ECONOMIC IMPACT OF BAN
Leaders in the advertising industry were also quick to express the severe economic impact that the ban could have on the industry.
Evans told Xinhua of the potential effect it could have on jobs.
"Across the food and drink manufacturing industry, that employs around 430,000 people across the country. Advertising as an industry supports around 1 million jobs in the country," he told Xinhua.
"Firms which are in a difficult position already and furloughed many workers, may be thinking what the restrictions might mean for their staff members now. It puts the industry in a very difficult position," he said.
"Advertising is a very visible industry, we see adverts on the television and in the streets and it's something that people recognise. But the easiest and most visible solution isn't always the one which is most effective and at fault in these situations," Evans said. Enditem