Food Standards attacks celebrity promotion of fast food

LONDON - Fast food, sugar-based drinks and snacks brands such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Walkers could see celebrity-based marketing banned under new proposals by the Food Standards Agency aimed at cracking down on the rise of obesity in children.

A ban on children's ads featuring celebrities promoting unhealthy food, which would span TV, radio, press, internet and billboards, as well as sponsorship of sports events and teams and pop concerts, has been tabled as part of a consultation paper published at the weekend by the FSA, details of which were unveiled in the Sunday Telegraph.

The watchdog believes that pop stars should endorse healthy food and drink. This plan would threaten companies such as Coca-Cola, which has sponsored garage act Mis-teeq and boyband Busted, and Pepsi, which has sponsored concerts by Ms Dynamite, Britney Spears and Beyonce.

Advertisers such as Walkers Crisps, which uses Gary Lineker, Victoria Beckham, Michael Owen and Vinnie Jones, would have to rethink their advertising, while links with children's programming, such as Domino's Pizza's sponsorship of 'The Simpsons', could be under threat.

The paper also puts in jeopardy links between fast food, sweets and schools, such as Cadbury's "Get Active" campaign and Walker's "Books for Schools" drive.

The proposals follow a report by the regulator in September, which claims that children are heavily influenced by food advertising.

Obesity costs the National Health Service an estimated £500m and is blamed for 30,000 deaths a year. One in 10 six-year-olds are now classed as obese, rising to one in five 15-year-olds.

Dealing with the medical problems associated with obesity is expected to cost £3.6bn a year by 2010, according to the report.

However, the banning of advertising by fast food, sweets and brands considered unhealthy, would have dramatic financial implications.

Pepsi's sponsorship of the Football Association is believed to worth around £4m and McDonald's, which has a similar deal, has also put £14m into local football sponsorship since 1993.

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