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Taiwan's need for a junk food law

Publication Date : 15-10-2012


According to a recent survey released by the Child Welfare League Foundation, Taiwanese children watch on average 8,325 junk food advertisements per year, or one every six minutes. This rate jumps to one soft drink, instant noodle or hamburger ad every 1.6 minutes in prime-time slots, such as mealtime.

The net result is a generation addicted to junk food, with a soaring number of obese children, and potentially a large number of children who will suffer prematurely from diabetes. The Department of Health already announced that the percentage of overweight and obese children aged between 2 and 18 in Taiwan rocketed from 6 per cent to 25 per cent over the last 10 years.

At such a critical time for our children's future, you'd think there should be a law against advertising junk food on local television. Wrong. Compared to countries like France, the UK and Sweden, which have stricter regulations regarding junk food ads, Taiwan legislators are still weighing the pros and the cons of lecturing people on the way they decide which foods to eat.

In France every junk food ad — and ads for anything else sweet, savoury and processed — has a banner along the bottom of the screen featuring slogans like “Avoid snacking between meals”, “Make sure you have plenty of physical activity”, “Water and milk are the only liquids a baby needs”, “Avoid foods that have too much salt, sugar or fat”, and so on.

Both the UK and Sweden have banned junk food TV ads in hours when children's programmes are aired. How long will it take to for the Legislature to review amendments to the Satellite Broadcasting Act regarding junk food ads? Nobody knows.

Yet, if you wish people to live longer, healthier lives, then using advertising bans to get them to eat nutritious, unprocessed food makes sense. There are no signs that food manufacturers are pulling out of France because their cereal ads carry these slogans, nor are any fast-food chains. There is no reason other than dishonesty or cowardice that our government should further delay actions against the junk food industry.

If on the other hand you wish to get people to eat processed food, and then leave them to deal with their obesity, then you should consider a scheme whereby those who peddle junk food help sponsor public health campaigns, like in the United States.

In North America, there are “soft laws” governing food and drinks sold in public school vending machines and school stores, outside of mealtime. Pending on each state's legislation, these laws can include specific nutrition requirements, such as limits on sugar and fats, or vague requirements that merely urge sales of “healthy” food without specifics. At the same time, the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a voluntary self-regulation programme for big food corporations, aims to shift the mix of foods advertised to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles.

It would be very bad for all of us, however, to have the people that fund the adverts to get us to eat less fat and sugar advertise at the same time their own products that are high in fat and sugar.

Many in-school cafeterias across the country are already making a good-faith effort to put more fresh fruits and vegetables on their menus. They now need the government support to fight against junk food ads or the fight against childhood obesity will remain an uphill battle.

If you still believe that lecturing has no effect, then why do multinational companies spend millions advertising their products? Advertising does have an effect on the eating habits of the public; otherwise, nobody would do it.


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