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Childhood obesity:
outweighed by economic interests

The French government has agreed a "code of conduct" with the media and food industries – a smokescreen to dissuade politicians from curbing advertising for sweets and high-fat foods aimed at children.

The impression given by the parliamentary debate on France's law on hospitals, patients and health (nicknamed the "loi Bachelot", after the French Health minister) is that public health in France will have to wait until the economic crisis is over.

Members proposed several amendments in an attempt to raise taxes on television advertising for sweets and high-fat foods and to ban these ads 15 minutes before and after children's programmes. These are common-sense measures widely advocated by the French medical and public health community. Such measures are already in place in other countries, and have the support of numerous legislators of all political persuasions.

But in the end members of the majority party voted against their own amendments, because the Health minister had just signed a "code of conduct" with television networks, media producers, advertisers and the food industry.

At the eleventh hour, economic interest groups signed a charter which pulled the rug out from under the lawmakers' feet. A code of conduct that acts as a smokescreen, delaying the urgently needed advertising bans.

So childhood obesity is considered as the collateral damage of economic growth. A missed opportunity for the "loi Bachelot", which places the financial health of a few influential sectors above the health of children.

©Prescrire September 2009

Source: "Obésité infantile : peu de poids face à l'économie" Rev Prescrire 2009; 29 (309): 533.

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