Is a 9pm watershed for junk food ads appropriate? Should we have plain packaging for unhealthy foods? These are just some of the debates circulating about the marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).

James Toop, chief executive of Bite Back 2030, believes there is one key voice missing.

“Up until now, the debate has pitched the government against food companies and has largely been led by adults,” he explains. “The voice we felt was really missing was the voice of young people.”

Bite Back 2030 has been set up to build an “unstoppable movement” of young people with the aim of halving childhood obesity by 2030. It was founded by chef Jamie Oliver, who has been vocal in his criticism of the way junk food is advertised, as well as philanthropist Nicolai Tangen.

It has a youth board, a group of teenage activists campaigning on healthy eating. The aim is to get business and government to act to improve access to healthy food.

“We want to stem the tide of unhealthy food on our high streets and in our schools,” Toop explains.

To coincide with Bite Back 2030’s launch, it has created an ad it hopes will raise awareness about the strategies of food advertisers. The ad was chosen by its youth board, after which workshops were conducted with young people to ensure the ad would work well with its intended age group.

The campaign entitled ‘It’s Not Your Fault You Can’t Resist’, created by Don’t Panic London, shows eight teenagers pick fried chicken over 50 other items on a menu as part of a social experiment that used social, radio and outdoor ads to influence young people. They then watch back to see how the advertising shaped their choice.

Ad industry calls for new PM to rethink ‘onerous’ junk food ad ban

The aim of the ad, which will run across social media, is to engage 12- to 18-year-olds and encourage them to join Bite Back’s “movement”.

“It’s not the amount of eyeballs we get on this film, but that the right people want to engage which is young people,” says Bite Back 2030’s director of digital communication and community, Angie Allgood.

“We want young people to get involved and to be armed with facts and [the ad will be] facilitating a movement and a platform.”

Marketers have incredible power to shape what options young people have when eating. Let’s use that power to promote health.

James Toop, Bite Back 2030

Bite Back has chosen not to focus on any specific food brands, instead choosing to emphasise its issue with how food generally is marketed.

“We are deliberately not targeting specific brands or products, but we are highlighting the marketing tactics and a review of those tactics,” Toop explains.

Watershed moment

The ad is part of a series of campaigns aimed at young people, with the non-profit planning to launch an alliance of celebrities, schools and other businesses in January next year. This alliance will work together on childhood obesity, including backing proposals for a 9pm watershed for HFSS food advertising.

The push comes despite the fact the UK has some of the strictest HFSS advertising laws in the world. The advertisement of HFSS products in children’s media and media where children comprise at least 25% of the audience is banned, both in traditional media and online.

The advertising industry has also noted that a 9pm watershed is less effective than other areas to tackle obesity. In August, the Advertising Association (AA) cited analysis that showed the watershed would remove only 1.7 calories per day from children’s diets – equivalent to half a Smartie a day – while costing more than £1bn in GDP.

For Bite Back 2030, the aim is to halve childhood obesity over the next 10 years, after which time the initiative will close.

Toop explains: “There is a power in non-profits being time-bound. We want to have a high impact in a short period of time and achieve a system change.”

In the meantime, Bite Back is hoping to appeal to the food industry and get it to rethink its marketing.

Toop urges marketers: “You have incredible power to shape what options young people have when eating. Let’s use that power to promote health.”

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