UK – A group of UK MPs has called for a ban on cartoon and fictional characters being used to promote unhealthy, high-sugar foods as part of a raft of proposed measures to cut down on childhood obesity.

According to FoodingredientsFirst, stripping out familiar characters like Kellogg’s breakfast cereal’s Tony the Tiger and Coco Monkey and the long-established “Milky Bar Kid” from Nestlé’s white chocolate bar and other superhero-type characters could be on the cards.

They also called on the UK government to regulate and restrict the discounting and price promotions which drive higher volumes of consumption of unhealthy food and drink.

The call for a ban on such promotional characters is part of a broader UK government program focused on changing the narrative around childhood obesity to make it clear that this is everyone’s business, according to the Health and Social Care Committee in its report into childhood obesity.

The Committee has identified several key areas which demand attention as a matter of urgency by the government before the next chapter of the plan is finalized.

“There needs to be a ban on brand generated characters or licensed TV and film characters from being used to promote HFSS (high fat, sugar and salt) products on broadcast and non-broadcast media.

And the government must align regulations on non-broadcast media with those for broadcast media,” it stated on the subject of companies using characters to target children.

Local authorities need to be allowed to limit the proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas and the prevalence of HFSS food and drink billboard advertising near schools, the Committee stressed.

“Existing powers are not sufficient and we again call for health to be made an objective within the planning system to give local authorities the tools they need to make effective changes at a local level,” the report continued.

“The Government must ensure there are robust systems in place to not only identify children who are overweight or obese but to ensure that these children are offered effective help in a multi-disciplinary approach and that service provision extends to their families.

Throughout our report, we emphasize the need to focus on ‘healthy lifestyles’ rather than using stigmatizing language.”

The proposals come just a few weeks after Britain’s sugar tax began as part of the Childhood Obesity Plan and at a time when the UK has a big problem with overweight and obese kids.

Excessive sugar consumption and a poor diet, much of which comes from soft drinks, are being blamed for the crisis.

The UK’s sugar tax pushes up the price of sugar-sweetened soft drinks across the country.

“Children are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer. Obesity rates are highest for children from the most disadvantaged communities and this unacceptable health inequality has widened every year since records began.

The consequences for these children are appalling and this can no longer be ignored,” stated Chair of the Committee, Dr. Sarah Wollaston MP.

“We want to see a whole systems approach and for local authorities to be given the powers they need to reduce childhood obesity in their communities.

Health needs to be made an objective within the planning and licensing system.”

“Government needs to help further reduce childhood obesity by introducing tougher restrictions on the marketing and advertising of junk food, including by bringing in a 9pm advertising watershed.

It should also act to protect children by banning the offers and displays that push high volume sales and impulse buying of junk food and drink,” she explained.

The alliance for food and farming, Sustain and Children’s Food Campaign, which champions children’s rights, parent power and government action to improve the food environment children grow up in, have responded to the raft of measures put forward by the UK MPs.

“We welcome the recognition given by the Committee to not just a 9pm advertising watershed but the many other powerful forms of junk food marketing.

It is something parents tell us very strongly has a powerful effect on their children’s preferences,” said Barbara Crowther, Co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign.

“It’s very welcome to see the Committee’s recognition that childhood obesity is not just a matter for the Department of Health.

We’ve been calling on Defra to put public health at the heart of future food and farming policy, and ensure it is seen as a public good in any post-Brexit trade negotiations,” added Vicki Hird, from Sustain, the alliance for food and farming.

“We fully support the Committee’s recommendation to Government to “ensure that future trade deals do not negatively impact on childhood obesity by worsening the obesogenic environment,” and as a priority, the Department for International Trade should set high standards for healthy food as a prerequisite for any future deals.”