Cartoon characters could be banned from junk food

Tony the Tiger and the Dairylea cow could be banished from shelves under new proposals

Frosties, Tony the Tiger, cereal
(Image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Familiar mascots like the Milky Bar Kid, talking M&Ms and the Honey Monster could disappear from shelves and screens under new legislation which would ban companies using child-friendly characters to advertise unhealthy foods.

The proposal is one of several reforms proposed by a cross-party committee of MPs in a report looking into ways to combat child obesity.

The ban would apply to both “brand-generated” advertising mascots, like Tony the Tiger or the Dairylea cow, and the use of licensed characters from TV or film to promote food containing high volumes of fat, sugar or salt.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Child-friendly characters associated with healthy foods, such as the Jolly Green Giant, would be spared the axe, under the proposals put forward by the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

A 2010 study found that 50% of children “say that food from a package decorated with a cartoon celebrity such as Shrek tastes better than the same exact food from a plain package”, CNN reported at the time.

The committee also recommended that junk food advertising be banned from TV screens until after the 9pm watershed.

Other suggestions in their report include ending multi-buy promotions on junk food products, and barring supermarkets from placing sweet shelves by check-outs to encourage impulse buys.

The committee said that the scale of the problem necessitated a “whole system approach”.

“Children are becoming obese at an earlier age and staying obese for longer,” said Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the committee. The problem “can no longer be ignored”, she added.

Yesterday, it was revealed that more than 22,000 Year Six pupils in England and Wales are classed as “severely obese”, meaning roughly one in 25 children will start secondary school dangerously overweight.

One-third of children in the UK are overweight or obese, according to government figures, and health campaigners have warned of a health “timebomb” that can only be defused if drastic steps are taken to combat the epidemic.

“The NHS spent £6.1 billion in the last year on treating conditions related to obesity – more than the combined budgets for the police, fire service and judicial system,” says Politics Home.

Dr Modi Mwatsama, of the campaign group Obesity Health Alliance, described the committee’s recommendations were “superb”.

“The UK is in the midst of an obesity epidemic and the Government must take strong measures to tackle childhood obesity if we’re to prevent this spiralling beyond control,” she said.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.