Causing a stir

Another week, another campaign to rock the food and drink industry. In recent blogs, I have written about industry’s dismay at both the The BMJ’s publication of an article, which suggests that sector funding is swaying expert opinion on nutrition issues, and the British Heart Foundation’s call for a ban on ‘junk food’ ads aired on television before the 9pm watershed in the UK – the latter of which has been further propelled into the limelight this morning with newly released figures revealing that two thirds of people want junk food ads banned before 9pm. This time, however, it’s an anti soft drinks campaign causing a stir.

The Gulp campaign – which stands for give up loving pop – is a Food Active project funded by the North West Directors of Public Health, which aims to raise awareness of the damaging effects of the consumption of sugary drinks.

The company’s website highlights research which shows excess consumption of sugar is linked to obesity, type two diabetes, heart disease, dental decay and other health issues.

However, both the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) and the Food and Drink Federation have criticised the ‘alarmist’ campaign for vilifying the soft drinks industry and scare mongering.

Gavin Partington, BSDA director general, says, “If these campaigners were genuinely interested in public health they would be seeking to educate all consumers about the importance of a balanced diet and physical exercise rather than erroneously targeting one product category and making scare mongering claims which are not supported by the evidence.

“Soft drinks companies are taking practical steps to help consumers lead healthier lives – product reformulation to reduce calories, increasing availability of smaller pack sizes and significant investment in promotion of low and no calorie options – up by nearly 50% last year alone.

“These practical steps will do more to help consumers than a campaign based on smear tactics.”

Barbara Gallani, FDF’s director of regulation, science and health, adds, “We strongly believe that nutrition advice, whether from public health officials, charities or industry, should be consistent and based on robust and up to date scientific evidence. This is a fundamental principle which all stakeholders in public health must subscribe to if consumers are to have confidence in the dietary advice they receive.

”Some of the Gulp campaign’s messages are alarmist and not backed by the considerable body of science currently available on carbohydrates and health. Education and practical support which empowers consumers to make healthier choices holds more long-term value than efforts to vilify popular food or drinks which can in themselves fit within a healthy, balanced diet when consumed in moderation. These adverts are likely to leave consumers extremely confused about what the evidence is for making such claims.”

Between food and drink products themselves and the advertising of them, I wonder what area of our sector will come under fire next.

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