safefood survey shows backing for ban on unhealthy food advertising

People in Northern Ireland would back a ban on unhealthy food advertising to children and adults to tackle increasing rates of overweight and obesity, according to new research¹ launched today.

The new research by safefood has revealed that eight in ten people in Northern Ireland agree that so-called “junk” food advertising aimed at children should be banned (80.2%), while almost seven in ten (69.4%) of respondents’ support restrictions on marketing of unhealthy foods to adults.

In particular, the research demonstrated high levels of public support for government-led policies aimed at tackling childhood obesity. This included over two-thirds backing the ban of vending machines with unhealthy snacks and drinks in schools (77.8%) as well as a majority backing planning restrictions on the opening of fast-food outlets close to schools (66.5%).

Nine in ten respondents also endorsed healthy school meals (91.8% for primary schools and 90.6% for secondary schools), educating children on food prep skills at all schools (91.7%), while 85.3% believe children should receive a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise in school each day.

The research also reveals that 80% of people recognise that obesity poses a serious public health challenge. Previous safefood research² had estimated that overweight and obesity was costing Northern Ireland’s economy approximately £370m per year.

A quarter of children in Northern Ireland aged 2-15 years are reported to be overweight (20%) or obese (6%), while almost two-thirds of adults are classed as obese (27%) or overweight (38%).

The research coincides with today’s All-Island Obesity Action Forum hosted in Belfast by safefood in partnership with the Departments of Health in both Northern Ireland and Ireland. The event brings together leading experts from the United Kingdom and the island of Ireland to explore a range of policy approaches to address overweight and obesity, and public support for such policies.

Dr Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition with safefood, said: “Overweight and obesity are the most serious long-term public health issues we face and tackling them poses complex challenges for policy makers, society and the Northern Ireland economy.

“People are becoming more and more aware of these rising rates of overweight and obesity. Our research shows the public is ready for a range of policies for children and adults to address this and benefit them.”

“There’s already strong work happening at a policy level in Northern Ireland. Of note is the establishment of nutritional standards in schools and social & healthcare settings; the introduction of the soft drinks industry levy and supports for breastfeeding mothers.”

“By identifying those policies that have strong public backing, we can better support and empower people to make healthier food and lifestyle choices. This has the potential to create lifelong, sustainable changes which can benefit current and future generations, our society and the economy in Northern Ireland.”

The safefood research demonstrated also found that nine out of ten respondents (88.8%) supported policies requiring meals sold or provided at private and public sector workplaces to meet a healthy standard of nutrition.

Meanwhile, just under half (47.3%) think portion sizes in restaurants and fast-food outlets should be restricted as a measure to address obesity.

For more information and to download the report “Public acceptability of policies to address obesity,” visit: www.safefood.net/news.

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