Editorial: Time ministers stopped passing buck on obesity

With Britain on the brink of what may be a severe recession, the prospect of the Government imposing further restrictions on advertising is the last thing the industry needs.

Yet that is what will happen should ministers press ahead with their threat to extend restrictions on snack-food advertising beyond TV and into press, radio, cinema and the internet. As each sector of the business prepares to fight for a share of what is likely to be a diminishing advertising cake, such a possibility is deeply worrying.

No doubt the worry will quickly give way to anger over yet another example of the Government making up policy as it goes along when it comes to the obesity issue.

When the clampdown was imposed on snack-food advertising on TV, it was utterly predictable that manufacturers would migrate to other media. The only people who seem not to have foreseen the blindingly obvious are government ministers. Now they wish to implement another quick fix to placate an increasingly strident and headline-chasing health lobby, but which will do nothing to stop the expansion of Britain's collective waistline.

The fact is that food advertising rules in the UK are among the most restrictive in the world. Indeed, it's likely that when the newly overhauled CAP codes are published next year, they will contain no significant changes as far as the promotion of foods high in fat, salt or sugar content is concerned. Watchdogs believe the current regulations are already robust enough.

Of course, the Government must act on obesity and will be helped to do so by a £200 million initiative announced earlier this year by major food manufacturers, retailers and media owners. This isn't the time for the Government to jeopardise that goodwill with gesture politics.