Food manufacturers are behaving like tobacco companies in the way they promote junk food, a former industry insider warned .
Dan Parker, a former advertising executive who promoted Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, said major corporations are still trying to persuade people to eat more sugar and junk food in spite of the obesity epidemic.
He compared the food industry’s behaviour with that of big tobacco companies over cigarettes. ‘If it behaves like tobacco it will end up being treated like tobacco. And I think it is behaving like tobacco,’ he said.
Parker has founded a charity called Living Loud, which helps anti-obesity campaigners understand the food industry.
He said the Government’s current approach – to persuade companies to reduce sugar voluntarily – will simply not work.
Manufacturers have produced smaller portion sizes, but they have not cut the prices.
Parker said this means people seek out bigger portions because they look like better value for money. ‘This has made people angry,’ he said. ‘People are howling with rage about the fact that their single chocolate bar is smaller but the same price.
‘What you’re seeing is a lot of advertising for the bigger bar. In WH Smith you get thrust a £1 chocolate bar if you go in there for anything.’
He claims companies are also promoting these larger portions in their advertising. He cited a Galaxy chocolate advert, which shows a digitally recreated Audrey Hepburn figure sitting in the back seat of the car of a handsome admirer so she can eat a large bar of chocolate by herself.
‘What that’s doing is normalising the idea that 100g bar is an individual portion of chocolate – although it will say on it you shouldn’t eat more than 30g in tiny little writing on the bottom, the advert says that for Audrey it’s a single portion,’ he told The Guardian.
Parker also referred to an advert showing former footballer Gary Lineker with a large bag of crisps which he refuses to share with his children. ‘Both those adverts are formalising a larger portion size. I don’t think that’s very healthy,’ he said.
This approach undermines a new campaign by Public Health England which encourages children to eat only two snacks a day – each of less than 100 calories. A standard sized Mars Bar contains more than double this.
But Mr Parker said companies are trying to undermine this.
‘What’s clearly happening at the moment is the food industry’s working hard to drag its heels,’ he said. ‘It funds research showing obesity is about lack of exercise or other factors. It’s all about deflecting it away from being about what we eat.’