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Have your say...

These are some of the views people have sent us about the options we've outlined on food promotion and children.

More than 300 comments have been submitted, which informed the paper that the Food Standards Agency Board discussed at its open meeting on 11 March.

We have now closed this discussion, but in the wake of the Board meeting an action plan will go out for consultation, giving you an opportunity to comment on the outcome of the Board's deliberations.

Your comments:

Alison Chilton, parent

We don't need more research. Children are encouraged to eat fat, salt and sugar through adverts targeted at them. Schools collude by feeding children fatty, unhealthy food.

Advertising is the main problem, as well as the stranglehold that a few major companies have on the nation's eating habits.

Saffron Passam, parent

I don't think [we need more research]. It's obvious that the current guidelines in marketing food to children encourage unhealthy eating and mis-information.

Rachael Morton, student

[There needs to be more] advice to parents and a change in policy towards subsidising healthier foods. Also, a carbon tax should be introduced to cut down food miles so that food is healthy for the environment as well as children.

Debora van Zee, public health nutritionist

[There needs to be more research], especially on banning advertising.

[To build on existing codes of practice], lots of funding should be made available, otherwise competing with unhealthy food [adverts] might turn out to be very difficult.

[The FSA] will also need to get the multinational food companies to co-operate, and I feel this will be quite a challenge if it isn't clear what's in it for them.

[Increasing promotion and advice for healthier foods to address the balance] is very important. Children, health visitors, teachers and parents need to be educated about this. A big part of the responsibility for what children eat lies with the parents. They need to be able to make informed choices for their children when they are little and teach their children (together with schools) how to make their own healthy choices.

A lot of parents still just assume that their child won't eat certain foods (or give up after offering a food just once) and/or don't set the right example. A lot has to do with parenting skills. I do not say we need to point the finger just at parents, but we shouldn't blame everyone but the parents.

It is very important to continue existing work [in schools] and to recognise that funding needs to be made available for this work in the long term. Each primary care trust and/or council should have a public health nutritionist to initiate and support local healthy eating initiatives in schools and the wider community.

Health education issues should be part of the curriculum for teachers in training.

The school meal system in England should change drastically. National guidelines/rules on the nutritional value of school meals should be reintroduced.

I am not sure whether legislation and advertisement bans are the way to go. Although I am not totally against the idea, I just feel that it might be too much in the direction of the 'nanny state'. I would like to see more research into this (what can we learn from experiences from other countries like Sweden, for example?).

Mary Kenning, parent

With rising obesity rates and the inevitable increases in heart disease and diabetes, the Government does need to intervene, if only to prevent the NHS being overburdened with these problems, not to mention the effects on workplace and school absences.

Food manufacturers need to start aiming for 'corporate social accountability'. Advertising junk food to children is totally unacceptable. It obviously works or it wouldn't keep happening.

Education on diet and exercise is important and more could be done through both schools and the workplace. Perhaps there could be incentives financed by taxes on high fat, high sugar and high salt foods.

Finally, the Government must learn not to be influenced by lobbying from those in the food industry who are likely to be adversely affected by interventions to prevent obesity.

H Jedwab, parent

There is more than enough evidence to confirm the effects of advertising on children and the effects of processed/fast/junk/salty/sugary, etc, foods on children's health and mental abilities. [Current codes of practice] are inadequate and ineffectual.

Schools should put the health of their children before monetary gain from vending machines and cheap, poor quality/unhealthy school meals.

Find a way to ban junk food/sweets/drinks, etc, advertising to children, on TV and billboards. Force manufacturers (by law) to reduce sugar, fats and salt in their products, prevent link-ups with children's TV/film characters that increase the sales of unhealthy products, make eating healthy food 'cool' in order for it to be acceptable to children.

Frances Wallace, parent

Have stringent guidelines for foods and if the foods do not meet them, do not allow them to be advertised.

Gary Stewart, catering consultant to schools

The Government should implement a 30-year policy entitled 'from the farm to the fork'. All children should receive free school meals, from nursery through to college, including breakfast. Food products should be supplied direct from local farms to ensure a sustainable food policy for growers. Menus would reflect seasonal changes. School farms and co-op school farms would be set up and introduced as part of the curriculum. The money to implement all this would come from long-term savings to the NHS.

Raquel Campbell, parent

Unfortunately, more funds need to be spent on research – if people still ignore the fact that smoking correlates to cancer, then the person on the street will need convincing that good food makes sense.

[Codes of practice] need to be changed. Food is not a luxury item, it is the cornerstone of our everyday lives. People don't have time to cook; manufacturers exploit this and have the money to advertise their 'fast, make your life easy' meals.

I conducted an experiment: I let a 4 year old watch a non-commercial channel only for a week. Then I let the same child watch a commercial children's channel for a second week. Results: zero products asked for during the first week, and seven during the second week, which included sugary cereals and crisps made from hashed up bits of potato and hydrogenated fats.

We need a grass roots offensive and to impose restrictions on the food industry. Baby food is very tightly regulated – why does this regulation fly out of the window once my baby becomes a toddler? Legislate at source and then the advertising won't be such an issue.

Sean Smith

Children (and adults) naturally want the foods that taste good, provide visual appeal and satisfy their hunger. Food manufacturers are fully aware of this. If children are offered alternatives that don't appeal in the same way, then they will just resist and crave the food they do enjoy.

Many solutions have been proposed to prevent or deter the provision of 'junk' foods to children. However, there is little consideration given to providing appealing alternatives that will fill the gap left behind. Prohibition never stopped people drinking!

I believe the only effective solution to obesity is to promote a culture of quality food (as well as active lifestyles) from an early age. This is something that happens naturally in many countries already.

France, for example, has a relatively low rate of obesity. There are no Government policies to restrict what people eat and no obsession with faddy diets. However, the culture places great emphasis on its cuisine... children become familiar with fine food from an early age; meal times are a family occasion where the focus is on quality and freshness rather than quantity; cooking is seen an art and necessary social skill rather a chore. The result is a nation that enjoys food yet has relatively low incidence of food-related problems.

Kevin Curley, parent

The use of vending machines in schools to sell sweets and sweet drinks is a major problem. But guidance from the British Nutrition Foundation already exists – regulation to prevent inappropriate vending is needed.

Ask all school governing bodies to publish a food in schools policy. Make this subject to Ofsted inspection. Each governing body should have a governor who leads on food in schools issues. Reward schools with progressive practices that promote healthy eating.

Lucy Newton, parent

More research should be carried out on parents' roles in shaping their children's eating habits. Ultimately it is what parents put in their shopping trolleys that children get used to eating. Changing habits here could make the difference.

I totally disagree with sales promotions for unhealthy foods being used to target children. For example, fast food restaurants [promoting the] collecting of toys is completely inappropriate, because it encourages repeat purchases. Sales promotions aimed at children should be limited to healthy foods. Of course, it is then difficult to define 'healthy', but products with added sugar and salt, or high fat foods, should fall into the 'unhealthy' category. Kids should not grow up thinking it is 'cool' to eat unhealthily.

Advertising high fat and unhealthy foods should not be permitted on children's channels, or during the children's time slot on TV.

Perhaps it is also worth teaching children more about where food comes from, what goes into food and what the additives in food are for, so that children are better informed. Also, sports should be encouraged – kids will always want sweets, crisps, etc, but at least if they exercise more, then obesity is less likely to be a problem for them.

Hospitals and schools are critical for setting an example for healthy eating. If the chips, etc, aren't there, people can't eat them!

I believe that more can be done at the earliest stage of a child's life in the form of encouraging new mothers to make healthy choices for their babies. As new mothers automatically look for guidance from their health visitors at this stage, it is the perfect opportunity to hammer home the healthy eating message. Perhaps a short booklet giving some recipe ideas for cheap but nutritious meals that can be frozen and used as required for a baby might be an idea. Even at this young age, there are biscuits, etc, available, and as tastes develop at this stage too, it is important not to encourage a sweet tooth!

I also think that as a nation we may need to consider paying more for fatty foods by way of VAT, since the NHS is going to need increased funding to deal with [the impact of] obesity.

Vivian Davidson, parent

I feel very strongly that school meals are 'fast food' with too much wastage. We should go back to one free healthy meal a day with a vegetarian option.

Sarah Djali, parent

More research could be useful, but not if used by the food industry to delay action.

Food that is high in fat, sugar or salt should have to be clearly labelled as such. Stop pushing the very sugary breakfast cereals as a healthy option.

Our school does promote healthy eating, but they usually have a junk food option at school dinner. My 5-year-old often has 'something that was either fish or chicken' for school lunch – he can't tell what it is.

There should be no food adverts during children's television. The food industry obviously think they are very effective or they wouldn't spend the money on them. Children (and a lot of adults) believe what they hear on TV.

Annie Seeley, co-ordinator of the Food Commission's Parents Jury

We need to take action, not conduct more research. The FSA's systematic review of evidence on food promotion to children clearly shows that children's food choices are affected by food advertising; most of the adverts for food that they see are for foods that are high in salt, sugar, fat, and/or saturated fats. It also shows that such advertising increases the amounts of products sold, rather than encouraging children just to switch from one product to another

Advertisers will soon be regulated by Ofcom. This new body will need to be transparent and include nutrition regulations so foods marketed at children are low in sugar, salt, fat and saturated fat. Because many children watch television in the evening, controls on unhealthy food advertising should be in place until the 9pm watershed.

The FSA's own survey has shown that 82% of consumers think that endorsements from celebrities, such as pop stars or TV presenters, have considerable influence on children's choice of different foods. So celebrities need to be encouraged to promote healthy foods and drinks instead of less healthy options.

Voluntary codes will not work – this has been shown in the past.

The current labelling system is not easy for people to understand either. In the US the code is statutory, but the information is very much the same as in the UK. And yet the US has a worse obesity and overweight problem than in the UK. Recent FSA consumer research has shown that consumers want labelling that clearly states whether a product is high, medium or low in salt, sugar, fat and/or saturated fat. This will help people choose healthier options.

Coca Cola just announced that they are not going to advertise on their vending machines in schools. But if their sugary drinks are still available in schools, surely that is a form of promotion in itself? So their announcement is meaningless.

Retailers should stop encouraging children to pester parents in the check-out queue for confectionery, crisps or chocolate by removing these products from check-outs and areas around the check-out. It makes it very hard for parents to say no.

Broadcasters need to ensure that their cartoon characters are not used to promote foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat, especially to pre-school children.

We should increase promotion and advice for healthier foods to address the balance. However, promotion of unhealthy food needs to be reduced, too. At the moment the healthy-eating messages get drowned out by the vast budgets used to advertise unhealthy foods. At the moment, out of a total of food advertising spend of £600 million a year, only £26 million goes on advertising fruit and vegetables.

The current guidance from the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) and the Consumers' Association on commercial activities in schools is not working. The healthy eating message taught in schools needs to be supported by what goes on outside the classroom. So children need to be provided with sources of drinking water. Products which are high in salt, sugar, fat and saturated fat need to be removed from vending machines and tuck shops. And schools should ask children not to bring those products in.

Unless Government takes strong action to protect children against unhealthy food advertising, children's health will worsen. More children will become overweight or obese. Many children will continue to eat too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, storing up health problems in later life.

The average consumption of sugary drinks in school-aged children has increased from 1.5 litres per week in 1983 by nearly a litre to 2.4 litres per week in 1997 (it may be even higher now). Even if children are not overweight or obese, high intakes of sugar are associated with dental decay – a recent Government survey found that 53% of all children had dental decay.

Mark Roberts, food manufacturer

The evidence summarised in the Hastings report relates mainly to US children, plus the studies go back as far as the 1970s. Very little is known about the effects of UK advertising to children.

Caution should be taken [in promoting healthier food] as research suggests that simply promoting healthy aspects of food does not have much of an impact.

Annette Pearson, parent

School dinners suggestion: have a mandatory requirement for all parents to vote for a range of school dinner menu choices. I agree it is the parents' responsibility but a little more control over the school dinners procurement process would be well received.

Sophie Wilson, parent

We need to do everything we can to ensure that our children enjoy the best of food, not the worst as at present. A ban on advertising to pre-school children is essential but only part of the solution. Parents and schools must also support, and be supported in, the drive to get kids to eat and enjoy healthier food.

Jennifer Jackson, leader in Girlguiding UK

Work [needs to be done] with interested voluntary groups such as Girlguiding UK on educational/promotional initiatives.

John Twist, exercise professional

We need to educate young mothers about the foods to give to their children. How often do you see a mother pushing a buggy with the infant eating a pie/pasty? That is not the child's choice, it is the mother's decision.

H Morton, Food Science student

Perhaps fast food premises could use well known characters to influence youngsters into opting for healthier alternatives?

It is important for schools to teach children about the problems associated with fatty foods. Lessons in food science, including practical food preparation, may help to encourage children to opt for different foods, rather than settling for chocolate, crisps, etc. If cookery lessons are shown to be enjoyable, it may encourage young people to be more active and willing to think before they consume pre-packed, fatty products.

Helen Bolland, parent

Bring back home economics lessons in school and allow for one period each day for physical exercise (not competitive) in which all children partake.

No more research is needed – that is just jobs for the boys. A good dose of common sense is all that is required.

No processed products should be sold in schools. Schools are the perfect venue to show by example that tasty, nutritious food can be made from pure ingredients. Incentives and pressure from commercial enterprises must be banned. Schools can supply fruit, toast, milk and similar simple foods.

Matthew Ellins, marketing student

Further legislative regulation is needed with regard to 'unhealthy foods' aimed at both children and adults. This can be achieved in the same manner as the regulation of tobacco advertising.

Tracy Hayden, parent

Ban advertising of children's food. Don't let toys and characters be associated with food either. Don't let fast food restaurants run bonny baby competitions!

Educate parents. My son eats very well, understands about being careful and reading labels on food – and he is only 4. Problems come when he socialises with other children whose parents let them eat junk.

Health visitors should have better training in nutrition (not to mention breastfeeding training). I see many parents who give babies coke in baby bottles for example! Health visitors need to look out for these things and educate parents about what's good and bad for their child.

Vivienne Filer, teacher

I am a kindergarten teacher of three and four year olds as well as a parent. I feel that children can be taught at this age about healthy eating through cooking, growing vegetables and discussions.

This should be carried through infant and primary school to secondary level where students can learn to cook 'Jamie Oliver style'.Parents can get involved throughout their child's/children's education so that it becomes a two-way learning experience.

Healthy eating should be made part of the school curriculum.

Kathy Deery, parent

There should be a ban on advertising unhealthy foods, as these are going to be a contributing factor to the next generation┬┐s ill health. Also chocolate, crisps, etc., should be banned in schools. Advertising could make healthy options trendy to children, as they will usually always follow the crowd.

A stronger message should be given to parents on how often chocolate, etc., should be given to children.

Karen Rodgers, teacher

Why did we have a Milk Marketing Board and not a Fruit and Vegetable promotion strategy with the same level of funding?

[There should be] legislation to prohibit the advertising of all 'foodstuffs' that contain sugar, those additives which have been shown to cause allergies and behavioural problems, and salt levels and saturated fat levels above those suitable for children. This would provide an incentive for manufacturers to adjust their recipes accordingly so that they could advertise.

All vending machines and branded 'food' should be banned in schools and all menu options at school should contain a good proportion of vegetables and complex carbohydrates.

I have stood behind children in the lunch queue whose meal consisted of a can of soda, a sugary bun and chips. Many children were turning up to lessons in the afternoon unable to study, hyperactive after all the sugar and additives. When senior staff asked for removal of the vending machine, they were told the head would not consider it as the machine was too lucrative.

The use of 'information packs' in lessons from food manufacturers should not be permitted.

Roger Philip Sheard, school meals provider

A tremendous amount of research has already been done on the implications of poor diet and the links to poor health such as cancers, diabetes, obesity and dental caries, coronary heart disease, etc. I would like to see evidenced research on many of the excellent interventions that are in place to improve not only the diet of our children but the positive outcomes in terms of general wellbeing, education, and ultimately educational attainment levels.

Without a doubt, building on existing codes of practice would be an excellent way forward. However, there needs to be action from those who can influence positively not only the health of our children but their education in terms of outcomes. Action needs to come from everyone. Education is not just a school's responsibility, food is not just the school meal providers', nor health the NHS's.

There is an excellent example of joint working that could be built on as a model of good practice in Bradford, West Yorkshire. The Bradford Food Network, which is open to all people working to improve the local food system and the nutritional health education and well being of the people of Bradford, has over 100 members from organisations and professions. Just one dimension of the work of the network has been to develop a strategy looking at the nutritional health needs of the district's children.

Are controls the way forward? Would banning vending in secondary schools stop students drinking carbonated canned drinks or would they buy them on the way to school? It's rather like the parent who thinks not handing condoms out in a Physical Health and Social Well Being class will stop their child from having sex. Surely what we want to achieve is an educated population who can make informed choices understanding that the dietary choices they make impact upon their health, well-being and education?

Ann Legg, health charity

Although a great deal of research is readily available regarding the benefits of a healthy diet and what this constitutes, much of this is clouded by misinformation such as calorie counting, the 'harmful' effects of cholesterol, and fats in our diet.

Whenever diet is discussed, particularly on television and radio programmes, in order to present a balanced view, a GP is wheeled in to give their views on healthy diet. It is therefore necessary to ensure that doctors are taught a great deal more about nutrition in much greater detail.

Promote healthy foods... yes! But firstly ensure what these foods are – check the research and don't give in to food, pharmaceuticals and agricultural lobbyists.

Improve the quality of school meals. Ensure fresh fruit, meat, fish and vegetables are available and ban 'junk' food and vending machines. Make it fashionable, through advertising and food promotion programmes, for young and old alike to eat well and be healthy.

The Government has funded studies in the past which have positively illustrated the benefits of a healthy diet combined with the addition of food supplements. Why has the Home Office no plans to introduce similar programmes into schools, hospitals, prisons and young offenders institutions? This would cut NHS costs, benefits costs, crime statistics, etc., and be of great economic benefit.

Clare Cooney, parent

There is no more research needed – we know what kids should and shouldn't be eating. More research equals more time for junk manufacturers to brainwash kids. Food adverts aimed at children should be banned.

Fruit needs to be made to seem a bit cooler to kiddies – so they lose the idea that they can be more popular by eating food that's drenched in salt and sugar.

I'm sick to death of getting adverts for things in my son's pupil post, including the awful school lunches on offer. Schools are treating children as a money-making resource.

My son takes a packed lunch of wholemeal sandwiches, fruit and cheese which costs me maybe 60p a day. His school's meals are £1.40 a day and the menu is full of pizza, burgers, cheap pasta and other rot. Most annoying of all, the canteen probably only spend 40p producing it. That's a hell of a mark-up. School food should be provided at cost then more of the money could be used to buy decent ingredients.

R Harris, parent

Get off our backs! Obesity is the result of eating too much and exercising too little. It is an individual (or parental) choice. It is not a subject for regulation or interference by 'Big Brother'.

David Cohen, out-of-school childcare organisation

Hard evidence that a change in policy towards healthier options might force the food manufacturing lobby to sit up and take more notice, as well as kids, parents, media and schools. However, we already know a lot of the issues, so it's important not to miss the boat and take too long.

Review the benefits of recommending organic food.

Hannah Pearce, parent

Invest substantially to upgrade school meals. Introduce quantitative nutritional standards as in Scotland (and as recommended by the Caroline Walker Trust) and require all catering suppliers in schools to use fresh foods and to dump cheap junk food laden with fat, salt and sugar from school menus.

Kathryn Sutton, community dietitian

Strengthen [existing codes of practice] and make them more cohesive between different agencies. Consistent messages [in media guidance] are crucial to increase credibility.

Healthier choices need to be seen as the norm. [We need to] reinforce and build on existing [schools'] guidance and tackle activity and food together. Obesity is the result of imbalance between intake and output, they must be tackled jointly.

Ban vending machines that contain sugary/fatty/salty foods and sugary drinks in schools, leisure centres, etc., and promote healthier choices instead.

Lynne Skene, parent

I think that all advertisements directly aimed at children are immoral and shouldn't be allowed at all. This would stop the possible confusion that might arise if only certain types of food could be advertised. I also think that children's programmes should not be broadcast if they are sponsored by food companies. I do think that it is a good idea for characters in children's programmes to be shown to be eating sensible food.

I used to be a teacher and my experience is that food provided in schools could be a lot better and is quite expensive. It really is quite shameful.

Robin Maynard, consumer group

[No more research is needed] – there's more than enough evidence. Codes of Practice stand for Codes of Procrastination.

[There should be] no adverts to pre-schoolers, or during any children's programming.

J Green, parent

We know junk food is bad for kids and good for the profits of the companies that make it, so do we really need more research?

Advertising for adult vices like alcohol and tobacco is very controlled and the same should apply to food promotion aimed at children. Broadcasters should not be allowed to use pre-school characters to promote unhealthy food choices.

Maxine Fowler, teacher

Reintroduce Home Economics in all schools. It is an ideal way to educate children about the importance of healthy eating and get the message home.

Jan Millard and Sue Slevin, parents and childminders

The way to healthy eating in children is to ban baby food in jars and to return to homecooking. The result is no fussy eaters, proven by us as childminders. Ours even eat sprouts, cabbage, meat, etc, … baby food leads to fast food.

Richard Ross, parent

[No more research is needed.] The research recently has not been value for money, i.e. concluded anything new.

[We should build on existing codes of practice.] The structure, etc, is already in place so encourage those bodies to review their codes regularly.

The current standard of TV cookery programmes is disgraceful with the amount of fat, salt, etc, used. These need to be brought in line with recommendations.

Joanne Arro, food and nutrition development manager

The independent research carried out has been valuable and action should be taken based on this research. The effects of this action should then be monitored for its effects.

Guidance [for editors and broadcasters] would be useful; however, stronger means should be put in place. Presently, some food adverts not only promote high fat/high sugar foods to children but also portray the image that these foods have more credibility than healthier foods and verge on belittling children who eat a healthier diet. This could lead to peer pressure to choose the foods higher in fat/sugar and even bullying.

If we know that the advertising of food is having an effect on children's eating patterns we can utilise it to encourage children to choose healthier food choices.

Schools and other educational establishments provide an important environment for improving and promoting health.

The advertising of food to children is part of a bigger problem that needs to be tackled. Presently, in general, children see foods that are high in fat/sugar as being the norm and this is backed up both from advertising, school meals, home, eating out (consider what is being offered to children on the child's menu). There is also peer pressure from other children that reinforces these types of foods are the norm, rather than foods eaten occasionally as part of a balanced diet. Work is being carried out on local levels but with limited funding and resources and some issues need to be tackled by national policy.

M Curd, head chef

In the past I have invited one of my fruit and vegetable suppliers to come to my workplace and display all types of fruit and vegetables, letting people taste exotic fruits and making them aware of 'five portions a day'.

I think that contract caterers and the school meals system should be scrutinised in more detail.

Vending machines don't only have to contain junk, the chilled carousel types could also have yoghurts/fruit, etc.

Mrs T Mason, interest in animal and human welfare

[Health promotion advice] should include the foods which we feed to animals and toxin levels.

The smoking advert with toxin coming out of an artery should include the same about the hydrogenated oil in the veins that our body cannot [get rid of].

Beelin Baxter, parent

[Guidance to editors should say that] issues about nutrition should be written by well-informed or qualified journalists to promote understanding and awareness. Many articles, especially in tabloids, are written on emotional grounds and only cause panic.

Vending machines should be banned from leisure and sports centres as they do not promote the link between keeping healthy and eating the right food. There is no reason for the machines to be there apart from commercial interest.

I would like to see food promoted with other lifestyle issues such as physical activity. Obesity and being overweight is not simply caused by eating too much but the imbalance of calorific intake and output.

Andrew Leslie Parsons, final year environmental health student

[There needs to be] greater scrutiny of health claims.

[Guidance for schools] is fundamental – bring back home economics and educate from within.

My greatest worry is the 'muck off a truck' currently dished out each and every lunchtime. Coupled with the exclusion of home economics, food technology, etc, how are children expected to understand the fundamental value of a balanced healthy diet crucial in later life?

We need to see a change in the current Government mindset in both the current school curriculum and quality of school meals, not to mention vending machines and the like. It is not rocket science but education that, at a tender age, lays the foundations from which one can choose!

Graham Pugh, parent

I don't think that the case has yet been convincingly made so yes; more research is necessary.

The current system of TV regulation works well without introducing any more draconian penalties or extra layers of legislation. But within this framework I would like to see tighter controls both on the content and quantity of messages my children are exposed to when they watch [children's television].

I think the debate should be about tone, content and minutes allowed. Perhaps fewer seconds [of food promotion] should be allowed during children's programmes.

I think [increasing promotion and advice for healthier foods to address the balance] is the most exciting area – to make healthy alternatives attractive and cool. It could be done via packaging and other forms of marketing as well as advertising.

I don't like the idea of kids being advertised to at school, full stop. School should provide an escape from the commercial world.

I think the Government ought to tread carefully. Parents do not need to be nannied but children do need greater protection from hard-sell commercial messages than they are currently getting. Aside from blanket bans of advertising, reducing the number of minutes allowed may be a halfway house, in partnership with other controls such as drawing up quotas to limit the proportion of high fat/high sugar foods advertised.

Elinor Busby Walker, parent

The research has been done. The figures for childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes show the damage to child health that has occurred in an alarmingly short period of time.

[As well as building on existing codes of practice] new codes of practice should be developed.

The Government re-introduced National Nutritional Standards for school meals in April 2001. These standards do not seem to have had the desired effect, i.e. changing children's diets. Studies have shown that children and parents are aware of what constitutes a healthy diet. The problem is how to translate the knowledge into healthy eating practices. Schools provide an education for our children, which should include how to look after their health. This cannot be achieved if the meal provision does not support the healthy eating message in the classroom. School meals should not be an opportunity for the school to make a profit. Their purpose is to educate and nourish the future adult population.

There are two separate issues to deal with. Firstly, to address the quality of the diet of the nation at population level. And, secondly, to tackle the problem of the huge number of individuals already affected by poor eating habits (e.g. those with diabetes, heart disease and obesity). Why can't the health service run community-based weight management clubs providing dietary advice, cooking skills and exercise?

Neil Adams, parent and environmental health officer/public health specialist

Research should include engaging young people about the barriers in their locality to healthy eating such as: access, availability, affordability, and how attractive and appetising the healthy options are in terms of how they are prepared and presented.

There is a need to help people prepare and present tasty healthy meals, particularly vegetables, in a quick and easy way. Could the growers, chefs and retailers be brought together to advertise campaigns about the different ways of preparing tasty carrots, sprouts, etc?

How to prepare appetising and attractive healthy meals should be included as part of the national curriculum. Could we engage the services of a celebrity chef to design and endorse the programme?

There is a need to engage local businesses and national chains of small corner shops that are located on estates and close to schools. These are the places where kids get their lunchtime junk food from and hard pressed families nip out for something quick for tea. If these businesses could find ways of stocking and presenting healthier foods rather than just sweets and crisps it may help. Environmental health/trading standards officers who already advise these businesses may have a role to play.

M Thomson

I think it's the parents who need to be educated in how much fat, salt, sugar etc they and their children should be eating. 'Healthy food advertising' would not work with kids; it is lack of parental control and understanding of the meaning of the nutritional information given on packaging that I feel is to blame for much childhood obesity.

Yes, there should be more education in schools but then schools are there to give children an academic education. Parents have overall responsibility for educating their children in many 'life issues' such as healthy eating – our schools can't do everything. Children and people in general have always eaten 'the wrong things' – bread and dripping anyone? But lack of money is not to blame either – cooking a proper meal using fresh veg is considerably cheaper than buying a takeaway or 'ready meals'. I think what we need is evening classes available for people to learn about nutritional information and RDAs, how to say no to greedy children, and how to cook a proper meal on a budget.

Allison Hill, consultant to food industry

The decision to limit advertising or the availability of certain foods should be based on the weight of scientific evidence not the strength of popular opinion.

It's easy to blame the food industry but harder to tackle obesity. Parents and children need to learn how many calories, especially from fat, they can sensibly eat and that exercise is essential to good health. They can be encouraged, but not forced, to make healthier choices.

In fact most people already know what's good for them. Advertising is only one of many factors that influence what we eat. Obesity is a complex problem – banning advertising is not its simple solution.

Of course the food industry has a role to play. In recent years it has introduced an increasing number of healthier choices and is providing more information and education than ever before.

So let's not rush for the easy option but opt for the '2 Es': Education and Exercise.

Phil Baguley, Trading Standards Enforcement Officer

Find some way of funding school activities that does not involve sponsorship by food companies – such as those involving the purchase of crisps, etc, so that vouchers can be obtained for the use of schools. How about persuading major fruit and vegetable suppliers/importers or even supermarket chains to take on sponsorship involving the sale of oranges/apples/bananas/grapes?

Pam Ashton, primary care trust non-executive member, campaigner for walking and cycling

You never see advertisements for leeks or carrots. The market dictates all at present.

There should be no more vending machines in schools. No more tied sponsorship for schools. All students should study food science. No food advertising at all before the watershed.

Gemma Heiser

I think it's common sense that food promotion to children has an effect – let's stop researching and start some action!

It will be difficult to encourage food manufacturers to [increase promotion for healthier foods], but I do feel that someone needs to do it. We all need to be 'singing from the same songsheet'.

Rosalind Sharpe, parent

[No more research is needed.] You have just received the results of the survey the FSA itself commissioned, which showed that advertising, and other less obvious forms of food promotion, influence children's choice of food, prompting them to differentiate not just between brands (as advertisers claim), but also between food categories (as advertisers deny).

[Existing codes of practice] aren't working, nor is [guidance for broadcasters and editors].

There needs to be much more well-designed material educating people (pupils, shoppers, workers) about what constitutes a healthy diet. As commentators have pointed out, it serves the interests of the vendors of junk food to maintain confusion over what is and isn't healthy, because if people feel uncertain whether foods are healthy, or feel advice changes from week to week, they will not be motivated to make sustainable improvements to their diets.

There should be cooking, nutrition and food budgeting for all school children, up to the age of 16: food education is as important to lifelong health and wellbeing as sex and drug education. Children should also be taught how food is made (i.e., in factories rather than on lovely, duckling-filled farms) and how it is traded and promoted. If children must be consumers, schools should arm them with the knowledge they need to be sophisticated and discriminating ones.

Strategies to reduce diet-related ill health need to involve many different sectors and institutions.

There should be a ban on all adverts that promote junk foods during children's viewing times, and a ban on junk foods specifically aimed at children at all times. In other words, no ads for [sugary cereals]. Alternatively, introduce mandatory quid-pro-quo adverts, whereby a junk food ad has to be balanced by an ad for a healthy food, paid for by a levy on the junk food advertisers. While you're about it, please could you advise the Government to ban soft drink vending machines in all schools, and urge the Government to compensate the schools for lost revenue?

Shame retailers into removing sugary and high-fat, high-salt snacks from checkouts.

Restore nutritional standards to school meals, increase subsidy, raise value of raw materials, ensure that the one meal the state can provide to all school age children is of exemplary quality.

Lucy Beasley, nutrition research

Adverts for junk foods which claim to be healthy should be banned. Colour coding foods according to healthiness would be helpful for children. Fast food adverts should be realistic and feature overweight children!

More intervention aimed at parents is needed to encourage them to encourage their children to eat healthily at home. Then school interventions may be more successful, too.

Mabel Gilfillan, oral health promotion

It is vital to consider all dietary related issues when developing guidelines for schools; this will avoid mixed messages by the professionals involved. At present this is resulting in confusion and wasted time in correcting mixed messages, i.e., low fat often means high sugar, sticky cereal bars are damaging to teeth between meal times and 'lower' and 'light' labelling on juice gives the impression that it will be a better option when in fact the time and frequency is the important message. Oral health often gets disregarded when guidelines are developed.

A high sugar diet contributes to most of the major preventable diseases or conditions influenced by diet. This of course includes dental disease, with Scottish children having extremely high decay and erosion incidence.

When providing advice at Government level it is important to provide statistics regarding all the main preventable conditions, to enable informed decisions regarding action to improve our children's health.

Gill Nadin, dentist

Encouraging the industry to make healthy choices easier and more appealing is vital.

All diet advice and healthy eating promotion should ensure that dental health issues are not overlooked. Mixed messages are a real problem, e.g. muesli/cereal bars are often seen as 'healthy' snacks, but have high sugar content and are not tooth-friendly snacks. Consistent, appropriate, simple messages are vital but all professionals should be able to sign up to all of it and not contradict other messages. Healthy eating must be healthy for the whole individual, not just selected parts!

It is a constant surprise how some [schools] fail to even have healthy choices available, let alone promote them. [There needs to be] more help and guidance for parents, other individuals and organisations in dealing with the 'difficult eater', to decrease the tendency to let children eat anything rather than nothing. There needs to be more emphasis on managing a diet based on regular meals, rather than snacking.

Legislation to prevent inappropriate advertising and promotion may be needed if suppliers and retailers cannot be encouraged to take their corporate responsibilities seriously.

Beryl McIndoe, teacher
As a teacher of food technology for many years, I have had the opportunity to experience first hand the demise of this important subject due to Government's misguided and irresponsible interference in the national school curriculum. I am incensed by the current attitude regarding the question of our national diet and poor eating habits.

I lay blame for the appalling lack of knowledge in this area very firmly on the doorstep of those responsible for reducing the time allowed in schools for teaching this basic life skill. Learning in school how to cook economically and effectively using wholesome ingredients and sound basic methods should be available to all children. Sufficient time should be allowed in the curriculum to ensure that every child learns the important aspects of food and nutrition thoroughly. Gradually and surely over the past decades our governments have reduced the time given to the subject.

We can now plainly see the results of their folly in our obese children whose parents were denied the opportunity of acquiring adequate knowledge of a healthy eating programme because the subject was pushed out of the National Curriculum and instead of remaining a subject in its own right it became an option under the umbrella of 'technology'.

Food and nutrition should be made compulsory for at least two periods a week for at least three years. Perhaps then some of the damage done by our foolhardy politicians can be repaired. Incidentally, the same sentiments could be applied to physical education in schools.

Angela Hopwood, oral health educator
Make all professionals involved in working with children aware of all aspects of health regarding promotion and provision of food – when meeting professionals from various disciplines, in the course of our work, they are often not aware of issues like low fat [products may still have] high sugar and vice versa.

People who are involved in providing food to children in various establishments, who are not from a health background, are often unaware that some foods and drinks that are advertised as being healthy options are not necessarily so.

Suzanne Paul, parent
[Further research could find out if] certain areas of the country are more prone to childhood obesity than others. Is more money needed in certain regions? Is it down to education about healthy eating to both parents and children? Do some parents need to know simple things like how to cook good wholesome food? Simple recipes in supermarkets [could be provided].

Healthy eating needs to be promoted in areas where it is needed, ie in poorer areas. Make nutritionists readily available at health clinics so that doctors can refer [people to] them. Encourage parents to visit nutritionists on a regular basis – from birth, before their children become overweight. Use preventative measures – give parents education about healthy eating, easy recipes.

Judy Shardlow, parent

I think it's important for parents and grandparents to receive advice about their children's diet from an early age. Health visitors run groups that cover issues for new parents (i.e. sleep, first aid, etc). Perhaps health visitors could also provide a special four-week course covering diet issues for parents of children aged nine months plus.

It's important to tackle it as early as this because children's attitudes to food and bad habits begin very early on.

Marie Muirhead, teacher

School dinners should set a good example and practise what teachers preach in the classroom by only offering healthy choices. Many of our pupils rely on their school dinner as their main meal of the day, yet have a meal which contains no fresh vegetables or fruit. If it is possible to choose chips, baked beans and fish fingers/chicken nuggets every day, followed by cake and custard, then they will!

Jenifer Inman, parent

If advertising didn't work companies would not waste money on it.

Codes of practice should be devised and policed by the Government. Voluntary codes can be manipulated by industry to serve its own ends. Any manufacturer making health claims for its products should be obliged to list all other ingredients and their health status, e.g. 'low fat' breakfast cereals may contain 25% sugar – they should have to put this on the packet, too.

Reducing amounts of sugar, salt and fat may make an item 'healthier' than the original, but it may still be unhealthy. Companies should not be allowed to use this as a selling point, as they do now, e.g. '90% fat-free' means a product containing 10% fat!

No vending machines, eg 'Coca Cola' in schools, no relationships between schools and industry involved in unhealthy foods.

[Guidance for editors should suggest] no advertising for, or sponsorship from, companies involved in the industry of unhealthy foods.

The public should be informed of the risks of eating unhealthy foods, [in the same way as it is done] for smoking, drinking and taking drugs.

Schools, nurseries, playgroups etc, [and Government or publicly-funded organisations should] only provide healthy foods.

No adverts about unhealthy foods should be aimed at children of any age. There should be no promotion of unhealthy foods by celebrities. I'm not happy with the idea of using a levy on advertisements for unhealthy foods to promote healthy ones, as the money raised would originally have come from the sale of unhealthy foods to the UK population.

George Ginn, parish councillor

Action is needed now. Much tighter controls [are needed] on unhealthy food.

The damage is done by children scoffing chocolate bars etc to and from school from local shops. Ban all school children from shops selling food before and after school unless they are in the company of their parents, who should really take responsibility for their children's welfare.

Mrs J Hall, parent

Voluntary controls are not working – make them mandatory. Cut out the huge amount of unsuitable advertisements during children's TV programmes – completely.

CM York, teacher

[Guidance to schools] should include independent schools. The importance of exercise also needs to be stressed. Many children are transported everywhere by car and do the minimum of sport and physical exercise at school.

Cora Edwards, Women's Institute
I should like to make all unnecessary colourings illegal in foods. The introduction of some of the 'Es' has had an unforgiveable effect on children.

Edgar Jimenez, parent
The Government has a duty to protect children and parents from the influence of processed food promoters. As such I see a role for Government regulation in this field rather than guidance.

[Promoting healthier foods is] a clear role for public health, an investment that will pay off when today's children grow up. Healthier food consumption will reduce the incidence of various forms of cancer, diabetes and other diseases caused by over-consumption of processed foods.

[Rather than guidance for schools], it should be more regulated. For instance, the range and amount of processed food sold in schools should be limited, and healthy eating habits should be encouraged by the availability of fresh fruit and healthy food choices. This simple action would go a long way in promoting healthy eating in our society.

It must be recognised that politicians are subject to lobby pressure from key industry sectors whose interests are not necessarily those of the general public.

Eleanor Duff, nutrition and dietetics

Schools should be encouraged to set up nutrition advisory groups. [Any guidance for schools should] utilise community dietetic expertise.

The development of food and nutrition policy should be encouraged within different settings. There is a need to raise awareness of the contribution that all Government departments can make towards reducing the obesogenic environment. [Any guidance for Government or publicly-funded organisations should] involve the British Dietetic Association.

[Increasing promotion and advice for healthier foods] will require additional community dietetic personnel.

Subsidising healthier foods should be investigated.

The Scottish experience should be built on and funding replicated to a similar level elsewhere in UK.

Wendy Dant, parent

We know children are affected easily by advertising. Don't waste any more money researching this.

Television is the strongest medium for children so broadcasters need to do their bit. Children are also influenced by magazines they read, so editors must also take some responsibility. Advertising should be banned during children's programmes and in children's magazines.

Also, schools need more help in supplying healthy school meals to their pupils. I will not allow my children to touch the meals in their school, they are being served muck – it is an outrage!

Kate Calvert, parent and author of baby book

We know that much of the food is unhealthy. More research would be interesting but given a limited budget, for the moment money should go elsewhere.

[Existing codes of practice] should be toughened up as far as possible, for example, only allowing healthy claims to be made if approved by a governing body.

[Guidance to broadcasters and editors] is a very good idea, not desperately expensive and potentially with wide-ranging effect.

[Promoting healthier foods should be done] but not if this is going to be expensive. It is probably pointless advertising healthy foods to match that of less healthy foods. Better to simply ban all food advertising as this is an open invitation to blurring boundaries. The same goes for 'balanced' messages.

[Guidance for schools] is a key issue and one which should be backed up by encouraging the schools to teach nutritional issues as part of the curriculum (how to interpret a food label for example).

[Guidance for Government or publicly-funded institutions] is not desperately expensive but could be useful.

I would argue for banning all food advertising for children (including in comics, for example) as advertisers are very expert at evading regulations in one way or another and banning TV ads will lead to sponsorship and the like.

I would also concentrate on informing both children and parents via schools, explaining to children why they need to eat well with food diaries and asking the children how they feel in the morning and afternoon in terms of concentration and energy levels. Feeling fit and healthy can be presented as more fun for younger children, more cool for older ones. Once children understand what's in it for them, they are more likely to make the right choices.

By the same token, if schools offer only healthy (but attractive and tasty) food, children will be weaned off the addictive taste of high fat, high salt, high sugar foods.

Looking briefly at some of your other suggestions, assuming that there is a limited budget, I would be in favour of anything that is relatively cheap. Where advertisers and suppliers will look to push boundaries, go for an outright ban, e.g. of any unhealthy foods in school tuck shops or vending machines. (The Scottish approach of banning advertising on the machines may be a useful first step but in practice is meaningless.)

Banning this kind of machine in sports centres and hospitals would also be extremely helpful but would undoubtedly require a major press campaign to explain why these products, so beloved of the unthinking, are not helpful.

Legislation on labelling (not self-policed schemes) would be very helpful. Schemes promoting healthy foods are a great idea but genuinely healthy foods – fruit and vegetables, do not have at their disposal the margins of those who sell sugared water at a large profit, so in practice they are unlikely to be workable. Such schemes for 'healthy' manufactured foods are open to massive abuse – cereal bars are just one example of sugar dressed up as healthy food. However, if supermarkets can be persuaded to do special offers on fruit and vegetables for children, that would be great.

Frankly, for the moment I would leave fast food outlets to their own devices. Those who have seen the way the wind blows are making their own minor changes.

Frances Tyson, school governor

Have a 'Healthy Foods' Standard/Mark registration with the FSA and ban sponsorship/marketing in schools of any non-marked edible products. Limit advertising of 'non-marked' foodstuffs in prime-time children's TV.

Some aggressive promotion of 'real' facts on those 'pretend healthy sugar-full fruit drinks' would be appreciated.

[We need to] ensure there is sufficient investment in educational establishments/schools so they don't have to be forced to consider sponsorship by manufacturers of unhealthy products, to make up their budget shortfalls.

If more children walked to school (and less parents/vehicles clogged the surrounding streets making them unsafe for walkers), health and social skills would both improve tremendously.

T Edwards, parent
[There needs to be] less research and more action. The effects of fast food and sweets are well enough documented.

Force schools into limiting the amount of fat that is offered in school meals to prevent kids over-indulging every day.

[Ministers should be advised that it needs to be made] quite clear what is the recommended daily intake of calories for children and to have calorific and fat content presented on food packaging in a way that is more easy to benchmark against other foods.

Carolyn Keenan, parent

More research is needed in to the effects of food colourings. Schools should be made to look at the effects of food colourings and behaviour of children.

Anna Scantlebury, children's music/playground games specialist

[No more research is needed.] The situation does not need clarifying any further. Children (and adults) are getting fatter and more unhealthy as a result of what they eat and lack of exercise. We need education of children and adults, especially parents.

Advertisements aimed at children, and ads for processed food at times when children watch TV, should be banned. Ban endorsements on children's food/ books/toys etc.

Make it compulsory for all children to have school meals, with no choice. A good meal with a veg option is all that is needed. What is all this about turkey dinosaurs and potato smiles? The Italians I am sure would think we'd gone mad – and we have. No wonder children don't eat properly if that's what they are brought up on. They should have a decent meal sat down, using a knife and fork, and on a plate, not a plastic moulded tray, and eat together, for half an hour, without being able to dash out to play. Mealtimes should be part of their socal education. The children should also be participating in the cooking and serving of meals.

There should be a tax on packaging, which is part and parcel of the processed food industry. These manufacturers should have to pay for the environmental impact of their products; the price should reflect the cost to society of dealing with all the waste products, and this would make fresh food, with no packaging, more attractive in terms of price.

Lorna McHattie, parent and food safety trainer

[Any guidance to editors and broadcasters] should be funded by Government, and not have commercially biased information.

Please ask the children [about any health promotion addressed to them] to give it some street cred.

[Guidance for schools should include] practical cookery of foods children are likely to cook and eat at home (cheap and quick). Make it fun to compete with the time they spend at home on computers/TV.

Commercial companies really only change due to consumer pressure, or Government regulation. If the first is slow in coming, then the second must be considered.

Involve children a lot more in this process from the start. Don't assume that us adults can enforce anything on unwilling children.

John Pilny, parent

If the amount of money spent on advertising unhealthy foods was matched by promoting healthy options, the result should be a more balanced 'brain wash'.

Some of the menus I've seen at schools are very poor, however they are trying to feed kids with such a low budget. Quality food and quality food preparation costs. We should be prepared to pay for this.

Advertising to under-18s should be banned. We don't advertise or even allow kids to smoke, drink alcohol, take drugs, etc. so why do we allow them to eat foods that can cause such long-term damage to their health?

Lesley Hetherington, community dietitian

Although research would be useful as a means to see future improvement I believe there is enough information out there about the poor diets, high obesity levels, etc.

There is a definite need [to promote healthier foods] to build upon redressing the balance. However, we need to ensure there isn't the same backlash to healthy eating as there was with the adult population.

Schools need support from local authorities to stop the sale of not-so-healthy food and need to be more proactive in encouraging all food from outside from home, as well as vending machines, to be healthy.

Everyone is entitled to access healthy nutritionally balanced food. I think the whole issue of weaning needs to be looked at. There is little point labelling food high fat, sugar and salt if mums are struggling from the start of the whole feeding process.

[Advice to Ministers should emphasise we] all must sing from the same hymn sheet and show support at every level.

Anne Johnson, parent and health visitor

It is unethical to subject children to advertisements that may adversely effect what they eat. Children seem able to eat pizza and chips for their lunch most days for school dinners. Healthier options appear to be avoided by many children.

As a health visitor I have and follow guidelines that have been produced by the health care trust where I work. These are research based. However, I cannot speak for other public organisations.

Perhaps a greater emphasis should be made on exercise and encouraging children to play games outside more rather than relying on school to introduce more sport at school.

Jane Cartmell, parent and member of Women's Institute

That the Government insist that schools should provide a nutritional mid-day meal for all children that want it at a reasonable price.

Michelle Gunn, student currently studying health and life chances for BA in child and youth studies

In my local area of Alness, meals within schools have been improved greatly and there can be no argument that they are offering a healthy eating lifestyle. The problem lies outwith school, when children decide to eat from the local shops.

On one hand you have the local chippy providing chip butties for 50p, while the healthier alternative from the bakers' is soup for £1.25 or a healthy filled roll for about the same price.

I think the problem is that children and young people do know they need to eat healthily but with many children their dinner money is in the range of £1 to £1.50 per day; therefore, they will always choose the cheaper alternative so they have money left over for a drink, etc.

My suggestion is to get local retailers to make special deals on healthy foods at lunchtime instead of on the high fat high salt stuff.

Colwyn Jones, works in the health service

Voluntary codes of practice seem to be useless. Hence the eating problems we currently have in the UK: obesity, anorexia, tooth decay, etc. Guidance is also useless. There must be statutory guidelines that have to be followed.

[Increasing advice on healthier foods is a] waste of time if they contradict adverts. We need to ban all advertising aimed at children under 12, not just food advertising. This will hand back control to parents and carers.

[There needs to be] better food labelling so we know what we are buying and a tax on high fat, sugar, and salt foods.

Susan Stamper, grandparent

It's always a good thing to keep researching and finding more and better ways of dealing with a problem. Again, it's a good thing to build on what you already know [in terms of existing codes of practice].

[Broadcasters and editors] have such power to influence and persuade that they should know as much as possible in order to make this of benefit to their audiences.

Education is very important and the more people know [about healthier foods] then hopefully they will use this to their own advantage. It's very important to get across to children what their parents may not be able to or choose not to tell them. Then they have the opportunity to think things out for themselves.

[Developing guidance for other Government or publicly-funded institutions] is very important since all things stem from these sources and they need to be kept up to date with what is going on. [Government ministers] make the major decisions that affect everyone so efforts should be made to make sure they are fully informed of what is the best course of action.

Advertising is a very powerful medium that influences children and young people. Perhaps there should be stronger guidelines as to what is and what is not acceptable for advertising purposes.

Kate Harold-Wild, dietitian

[More research is needed] although it is quite clear that companies wouldn't spend the money if advertising wasn't effective.

[Codes of practice are not enough], companies need to be compelled to [follow best practice], not just encouraged.

Advertising to preschool [children] should not be allowed as they are not able to understand the principle of advertising. For older children there should be balance – ie, there should also be adverts for healthier options and negative advertising on healthy foods should not be allowed. Manufacturers should be required to contribute to advertising for healthier options.

[There needs to be a] whole school approach so that choices in canteens, tuck shops and vending machines match teaching. It should also be mandatory to teach basic preparation and cooking of healthy foods. The Government should provide resources in collaboration with organisations such as the British Dietetic Association and British Nutrition Foundation.

[Generally, there] needs to be comprehensive and coherent policy. For example, in leisure centres, cafes and vending machines should offer healthy foods.

Anna Warren

Food advertising simply should not be allowed to under-18-year-olds. They are inexperienced and therefore vulnerable in getting into unhealthy bad habits.

Some people get into the habit of dieting. They almost enjoy it. If they see a new diet idea in a magazine they'll buy it and read up on it. Children as young as six decide to go on diets nowadays. These people, when they are adults, will never remember what it is like to be free from the pressure of diets and a desire to be slimmer. It is going to be incredibly difficult for adults in this situation to adapt to a diet free way of life, but it is not impossible.

Dieting can be addictive. It's a form of control, an obsessive compulsion and can lead to anorexia and bulimia – two eating disorders that usually require specialist help. People often debate why there are so many westerners with eating disorders and so few in developing countries. To me, the answer is obvious. As I have grown up in the UK I have experienced firsthand exactly what it is like to live the life of a susceptible teenager. From an early age we are bombarded with images of a normal perfect human: slim, strong, healthy skin, white teeth, cool hair etc.

However, we are extremely heavily marketed to about what we should be eating. Take ten minutes to watch kids' TV shows and look at the number of food adverts; there are millions every day. What do all these companies have in common? They all have millions of dollars to throw at a very persuasive and controlling marketing campaign, which aims to get kids hooked. They want lifelong money-making people who will continue to buy their product even after they're no longer the targeted group.

Now take a very strong desire to look thin and fit in with your peers, but an uncontrollable addiction to the foods that will make you obese, all at the grand age of six; it's a recipe for disaster. It's not fair to advertise food to a person so young that they cannot make an informed choice.

Food advertising to kids has to be banned now. I am in full support of MP Debra Shipley's bill.

Waegn Cole, food manufacturer

Further regulations are not the answer. Reduction in children's viewing of television is a better solution. Industry responds to consumer choice. Parents must be educated to make the proper choices for their children and their family's health.

Public consultations must be done on a local level to establish local policy within schools and public facilities.

All publicly funded institutions should act in the best interests of the public. If they directly or indirectly support an unhealthy diet, this is certainly not in the best interest of the public. Guidance in this area should include food in vending machines and canteens, and also caterers for publicly funded functions.

Controls cannot be effective unless they come from within the individual. Education of parents and teachers is paramount. There must be local consultations within the school systems. These consultations must include the parents and children. The result of the consultation must be used within the school framework to promote best practice for this younger generation.

Rose King

[Introduce] more healthy options for school meals.

[Introduce] parental classes for mothers of toddlers/infants, bringing back comprehensive domestic training in schools for both sexes.

A Bentley

Many people know [that] eating a high fat diet is bad for you – [although] I don't think the Atkins diet has helped at all in this matter. However, I believe it is about informed choice.

With kids, they don't really think about the future. I don't think they can imagine themselves as old with heart problems or dying young.

Parents blame advertising. So what responsibility does the parent have – none? Stop your kids eating fatty foods, it's simple, the message has been around for years.

Anna Toth, parent

A lot of research has already been carried out. We know how advertising works and that it does affect choice so something needs to be done now.

Guidelines can be too vague so codes of practice need to be clearly set out.

Healthy foods should be promoted in a fun way. Junk food producers use children's TV characters to make it appealing so couldn't the same tactic be used for healthy food and drinks?

Schools should be given as much support and encouragement as possible, such as some kind of recognition for promoting healthy diets and lifestyles to young people. Youth workers should also be encouraged to cover healthy diets and lifestyles in their work with young people.

All [Government] departments [and] institutions should be working together on this very important issue.

Adverts promoting unhealthy food should be banned to children under a certain age.

I think that labelling on food should be much clearer as it can be confusing. Sugar and fat can be hidden i.e. glucose, fructose, etc. Labelling should be standardised as this would make it easier when shopping and if a product is very high in fat/sugar/salt it should have a warning label in the same way as cigarettes do.

I think that some parents also need to be educated about their children's diets.

Mike Peverill, parent

Baselining to establish impact of future policies is essential.

I'm sceptical about how much the industry will support a voluntary code. How will it be enforced?

[Guidance for schools would be] helpful, but the main issue must be to get the budget for school meals increased to nearer French/Italian levels if the menus are to get better and healthier, and the staff [to get] better trained.

Perhaps a voluntary industry code could be tested and then followed up by legislative control if it isn't effective?

I think the big trick here is to try to achieve a consistency of approach between national, regional and local levels, so that the key messages are reinforced through a variety of means. A properly thought out national campaign should be both top-down and bottom-up, with the active engagement and ownership of local players.

Stephanie Spiers, voluntary parent organisation (charity)

Talking the talk [by doing more research] is just another way of doing nothing.

An outright [advertising] ban is the only thing that will work.

Ban junk foods and drink [in schools] or they will take no notice because it will cost them money to comply.

[Provide guidance for Government institutions] but still use force to make them comply and have large financial penalties for non-compliance.

Bring back free school milk – only refrigerate it this time. Fizzy pop moved in to fill the void when milk came out of schools and children suffered. We didn't have obesity before junk foods moved into schools, and children had better teeth, good bone density and growth rates. All this was lost when free school milk was withdrawn.

The Government should adopt the Scandinavian free school meals and free school milk system and bring in free school breakfasts everywhere not just in parts of Wales and Scotland.

When a third of our children are sent to school without a proper breakfast is it any wonder they fill up on fatty junk foods?

If other European member states can provide free milk and meals so should this Government be able to – that is if they are serious about tackling obesity and child poverty and it isn't just more PR spin.

Christine Gratus, lay member of Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition

It will be next to impossible to carry out research that involves 'isolating' a region/area and monitoring the effect of educational and promotional activity within it, because you will never, ever, be able to match the amount of money that will simultaneously be spent on promoting sugar and fat-rich foods to children. So you will be measuring the effect of a platoon of infantry against a nuclear device. You would need the food manufacturers and TV companies to co-operate – and there's no chance of that.

[Building on existing codes of practice is a] waste of time, just means more very highly paid people spending more time working out ways to circumvent them. Only regulation will work.

But you can't ever redress the balance without putting taxes up or hijacking the entire defence budget. Be realistic! This along with other draconian and punitive sanctions against offenders, maybe, but this alone is pointless.

Forget guidelines and voluntary codes. Treat crisps and [chocolate] bars (to name but two) as if they were cigarettes. Tax them, sell them, don't advertise them, make them carry a health warning.

Karen Hmaimou, parent

We know that salt, sugar and fat are bad for us, and we know that cutting down can only have beneficial effects. Anyone who is a parent also knows the influence that advertising has on children, and we can imagine what the effect would be if the same means and media were used to promote healthier products and a healthy lifestyle.

Mandy Blackwell, parent

I like the idea of a regional comparison. However, we wouldn't need to wait to see if child health improved. We already know that it will if the diet changes. The success could be judged much earlier by regional sales of healthy and unhealthy food.

Any good press for healthier food is good. Any advice to parents on how to fend off their children's demands for 'trashy' food is good.

If you could start putting superhero stickers on fruit etc. that would be a start. Maybe the BBC should make a policy of endorsing only healthy food through its children's character licences?

But I think, by and large, the people buying the food already know what is healthy. It's just pester power and peer pressure and the fact that the easy option is often less healthy that makes the difference.

I believe only legislation on ingredients (salt, sugar, colourings and fat levels) or banning advertising will make a difference. My son is just three and already wants me to buy the [branded] yoghurt rather than the healthier, cheaper option. If all advertising to children were banned, manufacturers would have a level playing field and we wouldn't be paying a premium towards the advertising costs of 'kiddie food'.

Jacqui Kearney, parent and health promotion specialist

As well as being a parent I am also a Health Promotion Specialist for the Wirral Health Promoting Schools initiative. With all our schools we work to help put in place a Healthy Eating policy looking at the 'Whole day, whole school' approach. This encourages schools to provide healthy eating options at every opportunity and, if vending machines are in place in schools (and we try to work with schools to have them taken out!), we would always suggest having fruit vending machines as well.

A lot of the schools who have chosen Healthy Eating as one of their priority key themes have also developed health tuck shops selling fruit (which ties in with the Government's 'Take 5' campaign), breadsticks and rice cakes. Schools are only too happy to change if they see the value of it, and how it can be done, and that it has been done successfully in other like schools.

We have a school in the most deprived ward in the country that has totally changed what they offer, providing only healthy options at lunch and snack time – and the children love it! So don't say the children won't eat it.

Tim Wright, parent

Developing the evidence base of what works is an essential part of this agenda.

Existing voluntary codes have been shown to be unworkable and manipulated by the food industry. We need a more robust set of defined legislative standards.

[Guidance for editors is] crucial because we have seen how the food industry has connived to bend the rules.

Publicity has recently centred on the use of a 'fat tax' to assist with this. The evidence from some countries such as some Australian states has shown the effect of allocating a proportion of the tobacco tax into public health initiatives.

Wendy Robbins, parent, freelance PR and member of the Parents Jury

Why do we need more research when those of us who are educated enough to read the results know what they will suggest? Why not spend the money doing contained pilot studies in areas where the greatest problems exist?

Increased point-of-sale and price promotion of healthy foods, eg buy one bag of apples, get one free. Give out recipes near to displays of fruit and veg or on its packaging.

Organisations like the Food Commission and its wonderful Parents Jury should be given far more financial support to enable them to increase their exposure.

Living in a fairly 'affluent' area where my children attend an upper middle class state school, I am amazed that none of my peers were aware of the [Food Commission's] Parents Jury until I joined. If we could raise awareness of this organisation and others like it, surely the majority of parents who care about the health of their children, would join its campaign?

Is more guidance [for schools] adequate? Ban pupils in all schools from bringing confectionery, crisps and juice to school. Instead:

  • Provide chopped up organic fruit from local farmers and milk or water at snack times.
  • Make vending machines in schools illegal.
  • Go for simpler, healthier to mass produce, school meal options like soup and sandwiches.
  • Ensure all schools give out one piece of fruit or, better still, chopped selections daily.
  • Try to stop older pupils from going out to the bakers, chippy, etc. at lunchtimes by preventing them from leaving the school.

We have exam results/performance league tables for schools. Why not have similar leagues for healthy policies i.e. more sport and less junk? This could be commercialised with an incentive scheme i.e. points awarded for 'healthy schools that can be used to buy sports equipment – this could replace the current [commercial] promotions.

Also, why not get cookery on the curriculum for all ages? Part of the reason for an increase in junk food is the fact that parents now feel they don't have the time to cook. Consequently, many children will rarely be exposed to cooking and therefore will grow up ignorant of the basic facts about food preparation. Young children love to cook. Why not exploit this and add it to the school day [or] as an after-school club?

Alison Robb, member of the Food Commission's parents jury

It seems fairly obvious that the rise in processed foods, burger bars and children's TV, ties in with the rise in obesity.

Codes of practice need a complete overhaul.

The majority of people know what's good and bad for them, but they don't have the time, money or inclination to do anything about it.

Basic good health and nutrition should be introduced [into schools] as early as possible.

  • [Introduce] taxes on fast food companies to discourage people [from] buying junk [food].
  • Ban fast food promotions and junk food advertising to under-12s.
  • [Make] nutrition and lifestyle classes available to people, especially poorer people.
  • Basic cooking skills and diet to be introduced to primary school pupils.
  • Food labelling to be in larger print with clear explanations of ingredients and additives.

Also emphasis [should be] placed on the importance of physical activity going hand-in-hand with good diet.

Valerie Whitaker, politician

It is essential that all children entitled to free school dinners are offered one. At the moment there is no national or county-wide form easily available – mothers have to go and grovel to individual school secretaries, who are often their neighbours, before they can get a form. You can imagine how humiliating that is.

And, sometimes, the 'Free Dinners' children are easily distinguishable in the dining hall. This embarrassment often stops older children getting what they should – a good healthy midday meal. This can lead to learning and behavioural problems in the afternoon.

Sue Abbott, web designer

[Guidance for broadcasters] is a good idea, because a lot of programmes and magazines actively promote unhealthy food in ways other than simple adverts.

[Addressing the balance] would not work, it would just turn people off.

Teach kids how to boil an egg and what the food groups are!

Marjon Willers, parent and dietitian

Plenty of research has been undertaken to show the link between advertising and food choice. It is obvious that obesity levels are rising. It is time to act.

[Codes of practice] no longer should be voluntary. Also there should be overall guidance. So even if the advertisements themselves are within the existing codes, the overall effect is unbalanced and there is nowhere to go for complaints about that.

Programmes that are watched by children (this includes some of the soaps) should not be sponsored or feature excessively unhealthy foods.

In the 'Balance of good health' [plate], fat and sugary foods take up a very small part. We should have the same ratio of sugary and fatty foods to starchy, fruit and veg, dairy and protein advertisements as there is on the balance of good health [plate].

At the moment it is up to headteachers and governors. Unfortunately, not all realise the importance of healthy eating. But many are struggling with budgets and any way to earn money for schools is seen as great, even if that means getting doughnuts sold at the school.

[Government institutions] have to show the way and show it can be done.

It is not so much that the state has to turn into a nanny state, but some policing would be helpful so that those who try to get on and do their best to try to bring up happy and healthy children, are not bullied, pestered and forced, directly or indirectly, to feed their children unhealthy foods.

Many schools are actively trying to get tough with bullies. Now it is time to do the same with the food industry. Those that sell food that claims to be healthy but are in fact high sugar, high fat and full of E-numbers; those that advertise unhealthy foods need to be brought into line.

Hospitals, schools, prisons, staff canteens, all need to have legal guidelines on what can and cannot be served.

Paul S Pirie, parent

No doubt more research is needed, but this should not be an excuse for putting off action.

The current codes of practice appear to be wholly inadequate, given the proliferation of junk food advertising aimed squarely at children.

Guidance [for editors and broadcasters] should be mandatory and encompass both public and private print media, television, etc.

Advertising and promotional activities in schools by food companies should be stopped.

The marketing of unhealthy foods to young children should be illegal in the same way that advertising tobacco to small children is illegal. The term 'guidance' implies a voluntary set of guidelines, which will produce an uneven result at best.

Susan Haddleton

Advertising of sweets and unhealthy snacks to children under ten should be banned. Manufacturers are only in it for profit and the children they are out to influence are not old enough to make informed choices. I find this more offensive than the advertising of cigarettes.

Christine Guilfoyle, parent

[We don't need to do more research.] We know what we need to do: eat healthier food, exercise more.

The whole question of feeding children well requires adult carer time. Parents don't have the time to help children with food (e.g. tasty home-cooked vegetables, prepared fruit), and exercise (e.g. walk to school).

Wendy Shepley, Health Promotion Officer

I think the evidence already exists on the links but there are always new things to investigate.

Promote [codes of practice] more – they are not widely known about.

TV and radio campaigns on healthy eating would be excellent – put your money where your mouth is!

Unless we take control and legislate around such issues then we are just scratching the surface with local projects etc. We need tough action if we are to turn around the declining health of the population.

An integrated food strategy is required for the whole of the population. Get tough!

  • Stop the inappropriate and unhealthy advertisements directed at children and adults.
  • Make nutritional data clear, don't let manufacturers pull the wool over consumers' eyes.
  • Bring back hot and healthy school meals in areas where they are not provided.
  • Inspect schools to ensure that they are meeting nutritional standards.
  • Ban unhealthy vending machines in schools.
  • Increase the level of training undertaken in schools re producing healthy meals.
  • Make processed foods healthier.
  • Encourage food growing and training for a wide variety of professionals, including youth workers, childcare providers, etc.
  • Promotion, promotion, promotion: special offers on healthy products – buy one banana get one free.
  • [Encourage] the plethora of things that can be developed to encourage healthy eating by everyone such as provision of allotments, cooking courses, growing vegetables, training, etc.

Tina Deubert, parent and farmer's market manager who runs cookery workshops and has written veg recipe book

[We don't need more research.] We all know how advertising etc affects children. We all know bad diets are bad for you. What we need is to change things and educate the public.

Guidance [for schools] is one thing. Supporting good practice is another. Help schools provide healthy meals. Support them in banning unhealthy snacks and lunchboxes. Give them time and money to teach children to cook. Half the problems we have now are because no one knows how to cook! Even the basics aren't taught and if we don't do something, nobody will be left to pass on their experience and enjoyment of food preparation.

Put money and resources into promoting good food, local food – and how to prepare it. Make it cool to enjoy cooking and good food. Preparing meals from scratch [doesn't need to be] laborious. As well as refuelling, [eating] is a social and sharing activity, which is one of the essential elements of a healthy society: physically, emotionally and socially.

Cheri Lloyd, parent

We know enough about healthy eating and the shortcomings of children's diets. More action and less talk!

[We need] clear and simple labelling. Stop the food and advertising industries from misleading us in the name of profit.

Stop using children's TV characters to promote unhealthy food. Make healthy foods more fun.

Please remove vending machines [from schools]!

Don't concentrate resources on pre-school children. Parents can control young children's diets more easily – we need to look at school age children and teenagers – they are the ones with more freedom and they are the ones more likely to eat junk food!

Alison Forrest, teacher

Bring back Home Economics into the National Curriculum. Domestic Science, as it was once called, taught students about food and nutrition as well as practical cooking skills.

Domestic Science was brought in after the Second World War to help 'girls' deal with food rationing and improve the health of the nation. Funny thing is, we were healthier then than we are now, when sugar, fat and meat was rationed.

Preparing food should be seen as a creative experience, which young people should be encouraged to participate in and enjoy – rather than sitting in front of a computer or TV. We have a whole generation of parents who have not been taught basic cookery skills and family meal times are a thing of the past.

Phil Thompson, parent

Lifestyle and exercise are the issue. Sugar consumption has been static for 20 years and yet obesity escalates – so it cannot be wholly down to diet.

Anita Mackie, nutritionist and parent

Forget the nanny state issue. Child obesity [levels are] second only to the US and diabetes in children is the third highest chronic illness in the UK. [This] merits Government action in the form of: a) bans on advertising b) NHS bills for child obesity and diabetes to be paid for by food manufacturers [of products that are] detrimental and [have] no health value.

And schools should be set minimal nutritional value rules as soon as possible.

Sara Ellis, voluntary organisation and parent

Agree [to more research], however, enough research has [already] been [done] to justify controls and regulation to be introduced.

Agree [we should build on existing codes of practice], however, any code of practice can be interpreted to the advantage of the food manufacturers. We need real enforceable controls.

Currently there is too much conflicting information. Clarity needs to be introduced based on sound nutritional guidelines.

Stop manufacturers producing their own biased advice.

[A] whole-school approach is needed in all schools. 'Grab 5' is an excellent resource. Healthy eating should become an integral part of PHSE [Personal, Health and Social Education].

Guidance and Codes of Practice are not enough. The same sort of controls that apply to smokers should be applied to obesity. [There should be] increases in benefit levels and [an] increasing supply of cheap healthy food to enable those on low income to protect themselves against diet-related diseases.

Mrs A L Moore, parent

We need to understand more about the impact of parents on food choice in the home. It is not enough to look at promotions to children because that is only one part of the equation. Parents remain the major influencers on food choice. As a parent, I want to know where to turn to for independent advice – but also, I can take my own decisions and do not need edicts from above to tell me what to do!

I understood that the UK has the tightest codes of advertising practice in the world. What evidence [is there] for building on codes of practice – rather than, for example, helping parents, families, schools, etc. understand the role advertising and promotions have in society? What is the benefit of building on codes of practice for consumers?

Should we not take some measure of responsibility and ensure we, as parents, monitor what our children see, hear, etc. I don't worry about codes of practice per se – I do worry more about editorial, and the content of media, [for] my children. Plus, of course, I also control the amount of media my children watch, read, consume. A note around parental responsibility needs to be heard.

[On addressing the balance of promotions:] The FSA has said that there are no bad/good foods, only bad/good diets. The majority of experts support this view. [In which case] what is a healthier food? Who decides? I personally don't see an imbalance – I can get sufficient quality and quantity of balanced information from my supermarket, online, my doctor's waiting room, friends and family.

Schools already have the IBSA/Consumer Association guidelines on marketing in schools. We need to hear more from teachers and educational establishments about what gaps they believe exist in current regulation.

It would be helpful to help Government and other publicly funded institutions become more aware of the existing codes of practice in marketing and advertising, as well as sponsorship. Industry could increase awareness of existing codes amongst these audiences.

What evidence is there for increasing controls? Rather than more restrictions, we need to look at using advertising as a force for good. Successive Governments have supported this notion in terms of public service broadcasts. We should take the learning from these experiences, [and] build on them.

The FSA needs to combine its efforts to work jointly with other parts of Government who have a remit for sport, physical exercise, transport, education, media literacy, etc. to ensure a holistic approach to the complex challenges that obesity poses. No single agency can hope to achieve any success working alone. Consumers need one set of messages, one messenger, consistency and focus on one theme (not a different theme each year).

Currently, there is confusion amongst consumers, industry and schools (which body do they follow – FSA, Department of Health, Department for Education and Skills, European Commission, World Health Organization?). A united front will be helpful in getting any long-term initiative to tackle obesity off the ground and deliver successful results.

R Barnes, parent

I think it's now clear that [more research] needs to be made a priority for behavioural and health benefits.

Strict codes of conduct for manufacturers [are needed]. [There should be] CLEAR INGREDIENT MARKINGS [with] a clear, simple label on the front of food packages stating what percentage of healthy daily intake each portion provides of things such as salt. For example, I failed to realise that cornflakes contain the same salt content as seawater!

Would anyone you know put salt on their cereals in the morning given the choice?!

Undoubtedly, [more guidance is needed for broadcasters and editors]. No underhanded children's advertising anymore!

Education from the start is the key. My daughter sees an orange as a treat, so now she gets treated more than she would [have done if] chocolate [was the] treat. That's not to say we don't give her occasional chocolate etc, but moderation is the key.

[Ministers] have a responsibility to the public – that's what they are there for – it's about time they acted upon it.

S Gray

Fat parents breed fat children. The parents need to be taught what is healthy to convey it to their children. Until this is done nothing will change.

Nicky Honeywell, parent

Just give the kids healthy food [and] promote healthy food by giving it to them at school.

Cut all adverts about food – healthy and unhealthy, including sweets and drinks. Let the food speak for itself.

Why try to have a balance [of promotional activity]? Then you just get a game of 'catch up'. Abolish advertising for all food.

The Government gives us all guidelines, it is time it followed its own guidelines and took responsibility for the meals that schools serve. Do not allow franchises into schools, and why do we need vending machines? So sweet manufacturers can make more money? How about bringing a snack from home?

Rolf Jucker, parent

Consider strict advertising controls and bans (as with tobacco).

Sally Ryan, parent

Improve school lunches – make sure schools [choose] healthy menus not just the cheapest tender.

Melanie Tanner, parent and student health visitor

We do not want a nanny state but, unfortunately, what we have now is not working. Obesity levels are on the increase and we are heading for major diet-related health problems in the future. Issues need to be addressed NOW.

Children are hugely perceptive and take on board healthy eating messages when given the chance. They have the right to a healthy future. For us parents, information needs to be clear, honest and unambiguous.

A holistic framework would be helpful [for schools] where a healthy eating message is integrated into all areas of school life – from catering to classroom. Many schools are trying, but [they] need encouraging and [they need] to have proper resources to follow it through.

Catriona Waddington, parent

Labelling is very difficult to understand. I have a PhD and I struggle to relate 'sodium' intake to what is recommended for my daughters in terms of salt intake!

[We should do what they did in] Scandinavia, ban unsuitable advertising aimed at children.

J Widdows, parent

Ban food advertising to young children, please! The manufacturers wouldn't pay for it if it didn't bring them big rewards in pester power.

Diane Watson, dietitian

Advertising to children needs to be more tightly regulated. Advertisers need to be more responsible. The focus should be on the positive aspects of food.

There is plenty of literature available [for schools] – the key is to get them interested and involved.

There has to be a central Government role. The issue of children's future health is too important an issue for there not to be a national framework/legislation.

Issues surrounding food intake in children need to be addressed urgently – a total cohesive approach is needed. We need to think about children being more involved with food – through cookery clubs, growing [vegetables] etc., so they will have an appreciation of where food [comes] from and how to use it, etc. and get away from the culture of fast and junk food.

Peter Knowland

We need to better understand what shapes a child's diet – parents, schools, ads? Only if we know what influences diet can we start to change the diet.

[We need more guidance for editors and broadcasters because] there are too many stories [in the media] about the latest food fads – what's good and what's bad for you. The total effect of this is that they leave consumers confused about what is good and what is bad.

This debate isn't just about food, it's also about levels of activity. Government must do more to encourage health education – [in relation to both] food and exercise.

Mike Longhurst, parent

The world is full of people who want to bias editorial one way or the other and all in a good cause. Remember it is only a few years since fashion editors were being asked to show fatter models and advertisers were being criticised for promoting thin role models. Whatever happened to that problem?

Promotion of the right messages can work well, but key is personal motivation. If you don't crack that you don't succeed.

You can't pass laws to make people thin. Do you know how many people would say yes to a research question asking: 'Do you think the Government should stop telling people how to live their lives?'? A big number. There are many scenarios in which things like this could make matters worse.

You need to confront the fact that obesity has become normalised over a long period. It has become de-stigmatised and legitimised. In a tolerant society that is good, but from the point of view of solving this problem, it is fatal. Choices have to be made and the problem will not be solved until people rediscover the self-esteem that makes them care about what they look like and recognise obesity as undesirable in themselves and their children. If you don't have a firm grasp on that you will just spend your time playing with cosmetics.

Kate Exton, parent

The infant school to which my daughter goes is good. They have numerous talks as to what constitutes a good diet, which my daughter (now Year 2) understands. The school dinners are balanced and I know she eats well. Having said that, parents need to be educated too. I'm sorry to say it but fat parents often have fat children, despite what the schools are trying to achieve.

P Crisp, parent

[There should be a] complete ban on fizzy drinks in schools. Vending machines [should be] banned unless they contain healthy items. End the scheme of contractors providing school meals. All schools should have cooks who prepare fresh foods on the premises, as opposed to the current [use of] convenience foods. [They should provide] a variety of foods from other cultures and contain as much locally produced/organic foods as possible. [This would] cut down on food travel miles and increase the nutritional content of foods at the time they are consumed.

Bob Eagle, consultant to food industry

[There should be more promotion and advice for healthier foods to address the balance] though in view of all the advice in the media every day encouraging us to eat '5-a-day', it is difficult to see how more promotion in this area could be effective!

Perhaps the FSA could request that food is sufficiently important for it to be a subject in its own right in the national curriculum.

John Bailey, consumer

[There should be] much stricter codes [so that] the product advertised has to be the product the company is selling, [rather than] various movie and toy tie-ins that are specifically aimed at children.

[Introduce] healthy school meals. A good diet is as much habit as practice. Also make nutrition and cooking a compulsory class for all kids. If the kids don't have any idea about cooking, then how are they going to be informed parents?

Subsidise healthy foods like fruit and vegetables, and endeavour to lower the price of raw ingredients at the point of sale. A major barrier to having a good diet for many people is money. After all, when set against the price of treating diabetes, heart disease and the various side effects of severe overweight people, [this] must make the subsidies a good idea.

Tim Hoy, parent with diabetes and school governor background

More than guidance [for editors and broadcasters is] required. [There should be] a mandatory code of conduct.

[Increase promotion and advice for healthier foods to address the balance] and fund it properly.

Some [guidance for schools] already exists, but more is required to overcome propaganda from 'sponsors' who finance books [and other items]. Schools reliant on these bribes actively encourage children to bring in crisp packets etc.

Colour code food packaging to indicate the most healthy to the least healthy option. [This will help] avoid misleading consumers with spurious claims from manufacturers.

Angela Miller, parent

Call for a report to investigate more of the lifestyle aspects of childhood obesity. We all know that weight depends on more [than] just what you eat and I believe that the lifestyle that most advertising sells to children is key to this.

Helen Wright, parent

Vending machines selling fizzy, sugary drinks should not be allowed in schools.

Good quality nutritious food should be a priority in public institutions, not just the cheapest option. The gains in pupil and prisoner behaviour and patient recovery time could outweigh additional costs.

[There should be] a real push to get kids to eat more fruit and veg using advertising with cartoon characters and attractive point-of-sale displays – i.e. use the tricks of the food industry.

Paul Titmuss, parent and obesity counsellor

[Introduce this] 4-point plan:
1. Remove junk food advertising from children's TV.
2. With immediate effect introduce real meals/mealtimes for the 8 million schoolchildren [and make them] 50% organic by 2006.
3. [Launch a] Government campaign on TV to lead people towards healthier foods.
4. All high-junk foods [to] carry a health warning.

C Bell, consumer

Of course manufacturers should take more care [with the] ingredients they put into food. However, parents are as much to blame for not controlling their child's diet, and not making sure they get regular exercise. Any food will make you fat if you sit in front of the TV and don't exercise.

Sonia Lancaster, parent

As a parent it feels like an uphill struggle when I want my kids to have a hot, balanced, healthy meal, but they come home [from school] having had chicken shapes and chips.

Aileen Liddell, parent

Some things are fairly clear to the experts, but not to everyday people. More needs to be done with regard to clearer labelling/misleading labels, e.g. companies say their product is 'free from artificial colours and preservatives' but neglect to say it is full of artificial sweeteners and flavours.

Mrs Rosemary Bentley, food manufacturer

Discourage schools from accepting sponsorship from fast food companies.

Jill Burder, parent

I don't think David Beckham, Johnny Wilkinson, Gary Lineker et al. play computer games for 4+ hours a week, or watch loads of television eating [sugary cereals], packets of crisps and pizzas, etc. every day – [the sorts of products that are] bombarded at children. They are probably all keeping fit every day and eating a balanced diet. They will [no doubt] be advocating the same for their kids.

The Government has a duty to inform and protect – especially where children are concerned. We have rules about hygiene, fireworks, crossing the road, speed limits, fluoride in water, etc. – so why not what we eat?

A reduction in salt – or better still proper labelling so that we can decide what is good for our children, and what isn't, would be fantastic.

Sarah Chapman, parent

Parents often have no idea what a balanced diet is [so] lots of children┬┐s diets are ruined before they start school.

As a class room assistant I have seen lunch boxes that do not [have any sandwiches in them, and just contain] chocolate and crisps.

Oliver Dowding, parent

As far as I can see we all know the key elements that comprise the debate and we simply need action [rather than more research] to correct the problem – NOW, NOT LATER.

It is no wonder children – and also young adults and some older ones – have such a poor diet when the only information they glean is from advertising, which is not interested in promoting anything to do with real nutrition.

There should be NO fast food outlets in schools. For many children, school is [their] only chance of a decent meal each day.

Dr Gary Stephenson, nutritionist and parent

We need research to look at whether positive promotion of foods such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrains will improve diets. We need a holistic approach to quantify the factors that contribute to poor diet and lifestyle.

[More guidance for schools] is nannying. Schools can decide for themselves.

John Roberts, consultant in public affairs

Schools have a real role to play in terms of education and meal options. Hospitals too must be brought into the mix.

Fiona Bird, parent and children's cookery campaigner

Children's health and food is an emotive subject I know, but it hardly seems rocket science to confirm that advertising does influence their food choices.

Debra Shipley [Labour MP for Stourbridge] has hit the nail straight on the head [with her private member's bill] – abolish junk food advertising, and go further than she says, abolish it for all children not just the pre-school ones.

[Schools should] give little choice and certainly [shouldn't offer] unhealthy options. Sadly, if there is an option, children will make the less healthy choice.

It is important to educate the generation who prefer to cook with convenience foods and encourage them to cook with whole foods once in a while.

Fast food is synonymous with junk food that is high in calories but low in nutrients; we need to change this so that fast can mean whole foods cooked and on the table within 15 minutes. Cooking with whole foods has to be the bridge to a healthier diet.

I am not suggesting cooking from scratch everyday but we need to grab the adjective FAST for food cooked at home. Children are being educated to 'Grab five', let us now give them a new meaning to 'fast food'.

Maureen Brightman, parent

We've had enough research by overpaid academics. I want to see action not more words.

Guidance can only do so much, it's only legislation that will definitely stop marketing of junk foods to our children.

We need more spent on promoting healthy foods, but how is this going to compete with the likes of the fizzy drinks and fast food manufacturers who spend billions each year?

There is already a mass of guidance for schools. What we need is to stop bombarding our kids with adverts for junk food.

If we don't ban marketing and advertising of junk food to children we will see soaring rates of obesity and increases in our taxes to pay for the consequences. Bite the bullet and ban it!

Jennifer Wilson, parent

It's always useful to have research to back any case.

It's very easy to get children to eat healthily, you just never give them unhealthy food and then they don't develop a taste for it.

Emma Wilton, parent

High fat/sugar products are not suitable for children and should not be promoted as such. If children are underweight there are plenty of unbranded items they can eat.

Lesley Watkinson, parent

It would be nice to be able to purchase healthy snacks for the same price as crisps and chocolate.

School dinners need to be readdressed and probably simplified, why not revert to meat and two veg? Most children like simple food. Healthy food doesn't have to be fussy. The best results I get with my children and their friends are when I serve a traditional roast dinner and pudding.

We need to go back to basics and tie things up. I am fed up with children bringing home 'health eating' literature from schools when they have eaten turkey twizzlers, potato faces and spaghetti hoops for their lunch. If we value our children's health we must allow schools the funding for cooks to prepare proper meals.

Daloni Carlisle, parent

I think we have enough research. It's not going to solve any arguments as the advertising and food industries, like the cigarette industry, will simply commission their own research to provide their own answers.

[Many TV characters] already eat fruit. Yet their images are almost universally licensed to high fat, high sugar and high salt product, that come with a high price tag and a high pester power rating.

N Westwood, parent

[Existing] research seems to be fairly convincing – surely it's time for action.
Young primary school aged children can't distinguish between healthy and junk food – there should be far less choice [in school meals].

How about [some] pressure to increase the amount of sport in schools? Less than an hour a week is hardly adequate.

Nick Cavill

Advertising of high fat and high sugar products aimed at children should be banned. Experience from other sectors – notably tobacco – shows that voluntary codes simply do not work. The rise of chidhood (and adult) obesity – and the potential explosion in diabetes rates – is so serious that this must be taken seriously.

Dave Hills, parent

Short-term research will not show up long-term health risks of (say) sugar and salt levels, so this is a lower priority to me.

Parents need to believe they can make a difference and need the knowledge to do so.

Ministers need to ensure people can make an educated choice. There will always be unhealthy options, restricting these is unnecessary.

Jennie Way, parent

If chicken nuggets are on the [school lunch] menu they will be chosen. Primary school children should not have the option of choosing unhealthy food at school.

My daughter's nursery gets good OFSTED results and I am happy with it in every way except food – soft drinks and biscuits are given at snack time, despite my comments on the yearly questionnaire for parents.

Claire Drury, food development co-ordinator

More food-related topics [should be included] as part of the core teaching curriculum throughout primary and secondary schools.

Honora Farley, parent

Create an 'unhealthy food tax' for all companies distributing junk food. Could increasing the cost of junk food decrease the appeal?

Beverley Knights, parent

Unhealthy products should not be advertised at all on children's TV.
[Even if we increase the promotion of healthy foods we will] never redress the balance completely when millions are spent on promoting unhealthy foods.

Supermarkets should not be allowed, by law, to have sweets at their checkouts.

Ban the marketing of flavoured waters to babies. These are unnecessary, expensive and give children a taste for unnaturally sweet things from an early age. It gives the wrong message to parents from the word go, about what children need.

Carol Goldsmith, parent and an environmental health officer

It is well known that children's eating habits have and are continuing to change and no more research is needed but action is necessary.

[There should be] less choice for primary children in school dinners. They are not old enough to know why to choose a healthy option.

Schools need to be given advice on healthy lunchboxes which is addressed to both parents and the pupils.

D Lloyd, parent

The advertising of high fat, high calorie food directly to children should be restricted.

Although hard to compete with heavily promoted less nutritional foods, more effort should be made to promote healthier foods and lifestyles.

Educate both the children and the parents.

Roderick White, editor of a marketing communications journal

The recent [research] report to/by the FSA was based almost entirely on US findings, and [was] far from conclusive.

I'm not sure that [guidance for broadcasters] will really help much &#8211 most media coverage is pro healthy eating &#8211 but there's plenty of argument as to what that really entails.

[Guidance for schools is] desirable &#8211 but is there space in the increasingly over-crowded curriculum for anything sensible and/or effective?

Bob Cannell, parent

Glycaemic loading seems to be the missing link between obesity and diet. Canada and Australia are convinced.

In-programme promotion of unhealthy foods e.g. product placement [of unhealthy foods] for the sake of 'realism' must be discouraged.

[Promote healthy food by saying] junk food makes you fat and unattractive; healthy food is cool. Use fire to fight fire &#8211 use ad agencies.

Ban unhealthy vending machines [in schools]. Mix the healthy option in with the junk.

Food for people, not for profit. [Introduce] 'unhealth' taxes on unhealthy foods to pay for the social costs of eating them.

Roger Manley, OBE, food law consultant, chairman of governors at a secondary school and Chairman of the Joint Health Claims Initiative

[More research is] essential to underpin any changes and to monitor the effect of any changes introduced. [The research] will need to cover actual activity of children and not what they say they do.

There is no evidence that [codes of practice] have had an effect.

[More guidance for broadcasters is a] waste of effort as they cannot act in such complex areas faced with what others who are better informed will urge them to publish.

[More guidance for schools] but keep it simple, make the messages strong and make it easy for schools to act.

The declaration of sugars and fat in foods are not sufficiently straightforward for aiding choice by many consumers. For example, the statutory definition of 'sugar' limits it to sucrose so manufacturers sweeten food with fruit juice to then claim 'no added sugar'.

Chris Hackford, trade association

Schools etc. need to promote a healthy, balanced diet and the need to exercise. The sale of school sports grounds are not helpful in this regard.

Sarah Hall, parent and food industry

Options in catering are very limited for children and focus too much on processed foods – sausages, chips and beans, etc. Would like to see stricter nutrition codes for foods aimed at children.

Graham McMillan, public affairs consultant

A public campaign on food and health, but critically also on the need for active lifestyles and more exercise, is essential.

Schools need guidance on this issue. If they have vending machines, for example, they can still make good income from healthy options.

School food must have extra investment to make nutritional food more tasty and attractive. Schools also need increased investment to encourage greater sport and exercise. Sedentary lifestyles are a huge part of this problem.

R Wisbey, parent

Independent research would help cut through much ill-informed and emotive opinion about the true causes of obesity, fat intake and ‘couch potatoism’ among children.

Guidance already exists [for broadcasters] but much more freedom is allowed to editorial content than to advertised content.

An informed debate [would help] balance the hysteria surrounding the subject at present.

Richard Clark, advertiser

We know that 'paid persuasion' on behalf of food manufacturers works – otherwise they wouldn't pay!

Quotas in broadcast content would be very draconian – but sponsorship needs to be addressed.

It's not about advertising to children – it's about advertising UNHEALTHY PRODUCTS to children. We should introduce regulations to bring such advertising into line with restrictions on alcohol advertising to under-18s.

Peter Jackling, parent and marketing researcher

Authoritative data sources such as the National Diet & Nutrition Survey and the Government's own National Food Survey show that fat intake among children is NOT increasing. However, exercise, the burning of whatever fat is consumed, is decreasing. It's all about balance, and with schools promoting much less exercise now than 15 years ago, this is the issue we should be concentrating on.

Robert Bickers, parent

A ban on food advertising to children along the Swedish model is vital. Marketing of food to children would not be such a multi-million pound industry if those paying for it were not convinced it worked.

Food adverts aimed at pre-school children should be banned and there should be restrictions on the frequency of ads aimed at children promoting less healthy foods. There should also be a ban on children's TV presenters being used in food ads aimed at children.

Jackie Oliver, parent and supply teacher

Make labels easier to read, and educate parents in a major way. And put pressure on the food manufacturers to cut down on the fats, sugars, salt and additives.

Steve Harger, parent

My kids spend too much time lying on their beds in their rooms watching TV playing on their Play Station, or sitting in front of the PC downloading music or 'chatting' to friends. Schools seem to have a minimal amount of physical exercise lessons (and it is easy for kids to opt out).

More pressure needs to be put on kids to participate in active games for health reasons and to encourage competition. Schools should be made to have more varied activities to ensure they cater for students.

We need variety in food. Kids hate low fat crisps. How can you have low fat chocolate bars? I would worry about some of the things manufacturers would use to substitute for these unhealthy ingredients.

Anita Bean, parent and freelance health writer

More should be done to encourage healthier eating practices in kids' programmes. If characters snack on fruit, for example, it will make fruit more cool for children.

Much more needs to be done to encourage children to choose the healthier options in school meals. I would like to see legislation banning vending machines [in schools] that sell crisps, fizzy drinks and confectionery.

Vending machines at sports clubs should definitely be replaced with cafeterias offering healthy options.

Charles Routh, parent

I am very glad the FSA has raised this as an important issue. Although difficult to legislate, I would favour heavy restrictions or an outright ban on advertising directed at children.

I gather this has been implemented in some [Scandinavian] countries.

Angie Jefferson, freelance dietitian

At the moment the debate is being led by lobby groups and is not focused on achieving the most effective outcome for the consumer and their health. This needs to be addressed.

It should be independent experts, not lobbyists, leading any changes.

Alan Watson, parent

You need to limit promotion of junk food. And that means limits, not voluntary codes, because they won't work. The Scandinavians have the right idea. All advertising aimed at children should be banned. This also avoids any problems about which companies/products should have their marketing restricted.

Also, I'm dubious about adding healthy options to a vending machine. It won't compete with heavily-branded junk food.

Paula Durkan, parent and lecturer in marketing

Research indicates that advertising is very influential. Guidance would be flouted. Any change would need to be [legally] enforced.

Chris Maycroft, local government official

We should be looking at ways of returning a free cooked meal at lunch times in schools. At least then a child will be getting one well-balanced and nutritious meal per day.

Ian Lawson, food legislation consultant

Codes of practice are more flexible and when well thought through and debated, are easier to interpret.

Also, legislation might have to be agreed at an EU level and change would then become very slow.

Maddalena Feliciello, parent

I would advocate a preference for Glycaemic Loading rather than carbohydrate or sugar levels as part of nutritional labelling. Stated as low, medium or high per portion.

Another practical intervention would be to remove the option for media/film spin-off/tie-ins to fast-food outlets and those products such as snack foods and cereals aimed at this niche market.

E W Smith, grandparent

Without denying problems exist with obesity there are also around 20% of young children seriously underweight.

For these children foods with a higher fat content are vital in helping them take in adequate energy levels.

Clare Duggan, parent

There should be greater emphasis on educating for healthier eating, such as at ante-natal classes and parenting groups.

And also a campaign to mirror the anti-smoking campaigns to eventually make healthy eating the norm rather than the exception.

Hazel Riggall, health professional

There should be a total ban on advertising high fat, high sugar and high salt foods to children.

Pam Harvey, community dietitian

Some sort of control is definitely needed. How can dietitians, school nurses, health visitors, etc, help children to make better food choices when they are bombarded with commercial promotions 24/7 for the wrong food types?

We need support from the government which recognises the impact of diet on a range of life threatening conditions but does very little to make the playing field more level for those at the coal face.

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