Advertisers Must Help Nanny State ‘Evolve Society’ with 9pm ‘Junk Food’ Watershed

Cute healthy preschool kid boy eats hamburger sitting in cafe outdoors.
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One of the UK’s leading advertising executives has backed Boris Johnson’s Nanny State assault on “junk food” by pushing for a 9 pm “watershed” of advertising food deemed unhealthy.

Usually reserved for programmes with adult themes such as sex and violence, Sir John Hegarty has said a watershed on “junk food” ads would encourage advertisers to accept that they had “responsibilities beyond just selling us things”. He added it would result in the industry being seen as “a valuable partner in an evolving society”.

“Encouraging children to eat a healthier diet becomes critical. Encouraging them to eat more vegetables, encouraging food companies to invest in healthier meals and encouraging the public to buy them needs a co-ordinated programme from all the stakeholders.

“That’s why, when it comes to food, one of advertising’s largest categories, it’s important that a 9 pm watershed is applied to the promotion of junk food,” Sir John wrote in The Times Red Box, claiming the move would “even out the playing field for healthy eating”.

Advertising is already heavily regulated in the UK, with a 2019 law banning so-called ‘sexist’ stereotypes in commercials. In recent examples, a Volkswagon ad was banned for fearing a woman looking after a baby and men being adventurous. Another poster by a recruitment website was banned for having the word “girl” in it.

Hegarty pushed the expansion of Nanny State tactics ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s reported plans to announce on Monday rules to ban supermarkets promoting “junk food”, including banning promotional sales of ‘unhealthy’ items. However, he is expected to hold off on putting fast-food television ads on the same par as nudity in movies.

The prime minister, who used to call himself “very libertarian”, came out in favour of more state intervention in the lives of adults in Britain after his own coronavirus diagnosis, saying earlier this month that he wants to make the nation “fitter”. One move Number 10 is said to be considering is forcing restaurants to display calorie counts on their menus.

Britons’ lifestyles have already been heavily restricted in recent months under the coronavirus lockdown. While some measures have been lifted, others are to be imposed, including wearing masks in all shops and supermarkets set to come into effect on Friday. Britons already have to wear them on public transport. There are reports that people may have to wear them in takeaway restaurants, as well.

In May, the UK banned the sale of menthol tobacco and cigarettes. While the law was imposed as an EU directive — the UK in the transition period is still subject to Brussels laws — there appears to have been no indication from government that the rule will be rolled back when the UK regains full independence on December 31st, 2020.

When the ban was imposed, the director of the smokers’ group Forest, Simon Clark, warned that the UK would be “sleepwalking to prohibition” whether inside or outside the EU.

The latest edition of the Nanny State Index places the UK fourth from the highest in 2019. While down from second in 2017, the UK is still in the ‘red zone’, marking it as amongst the least free states in the EU in terms of smoking, eating, and drinking.


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