Health Select Committee Report Calls for Ban on Promoting Unhealthy Food with Cartoon Characters

Wednesday 30th May 2018

A group of MPs have said that fictional characters and cartoon characters should not be used to sell junk food.

This would affect not only typical mascot characters, such as Tony the Tiger or the Sugar Puff Monster, but also the use of brand tie-ins, such as the appearance of characters from films or television shows. The exception to this would be that mascots could still be used to promote healthy food, such as the Green Giant.

This is part of a raft of measures suggested to reduce obesity and junk food consumption in children suggested by the select committee. Other suggestions include:

  • restricting television adverts for junk food to after the 9PM watershed,
  • restricting price promotions for unhealthy food,
  • forcing supermarkets to remove unhealthy snacks from checkout areas and other areas geared towards impulse purchases,
  • giving local authorities the power to control how many fast food restaurants can open in a local areas,
  • a ban on the sponsorship of sports venues, clubs, tournaments and youth leagues by brands linked to unhealthy food and drink,
  • social media companies being called upon to ensure children are less exposed to advertising for junk food whilst using their services.

The report, entitled Childhood obesity: Time for action, comes in the wake of new statistics that show that one in 25 children between the ages of 10 and 11 were deemed “severely obese”.

The chair of the committee, Dr Sarah Wallaston MP, noted that the consequences of the growing obesity epidemic cannot be ignored any longer, calling on the government to go further with its fiscal measures, such as extending the existing soft drinks levy to milkshakes and other milk-based drinks, which are currently not regulated by the sugar tax.

Mascots and fictional advertising characters have been a part of selling food for over 130 years, with the Quaker Oats Man being possibly the first and longest running, with the Quaker-dressed gentleman being part of the logo to this day. It is a common part of cereal advertising, due to Kellogg’s very common use of mascots to promote its products starting with Snap, Crackle and Pop for Rice Krispies.

The use of bright, easily identifiable cartoon characters appeals very strongly to children, something that was used to great effect by fast food companies such as McDonalds to encourage eating unhealthy food. For the most part, this practice has been banned in widespread advertising in the UK since December 2016. However whilst foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS foods) are banned from media popular with children, the Health Select Committee want to take the measures further and ban using characters popular with children from advertising HFSS foods entirely.

The Royal College of Paediatrics’ officer for health promotion, Dr Max Davie, agreed with the committee’s decision, arguing that action needs to be taken now to tackle obesity.

It will be interesting to see if some of the suggestions are followed up on, as well as how effective any further action would be.