Editorial: Govt has to offer adland its support over obesity

Only the most rabid free-marketer or the most intransigent health zealot could find fault with the Government's £372 million strategy to reduce Britain's collective waistline. It is an initiative in which everybody could be a winner, as long as those involved show common sense and compromise.

Snack foods and drinks manufacturers and their agencies have to recognise that they can no longer enjoy an advertising free-for-all - public opinion won't tolerate it. The fact that a recent survey conducted by the Advertising Standards Authority found almost total compliance by advertisers with the new rules suggests this battle has been won.

The health lobbyists need to back off now and give the strategy time to work. The British Heart Foundation's demand for a ban on all snack foods and drinks advertising is starting to sound like an old stuck record. There's no evidence of widespread support for such a ban.

There's also the attitude of the Government. Having set out its obesity crisis plan, a key component of which will be a £75 million ad campaign, it must stick with it and hold its nerve should results not come quickly.

All too often, ministers have given too much credibility to anti-business pressure groups with hidden agendas, and made advertising the scapegoat, while the real causes of obesity were left untackled. Adland has long been calling on the Government to see it as part of the answer to obesity, rather than the cause. From the powerful Aids campaigns of the mid-90s, to the anti-smoking campaigns of more recent times, it has an impressive record of attitude-changing public service advertising. Now it has the chance to extend that success and create a healthier Britain. But it can only do this if it has the Government's support. That means politicians ending their schizophrenic attitude to adland.

Situations in which one minister praises the industry for its world-leading creative prowess while another condemns it as a malevolent influence on society are not only unsettling, but also counter-productive.