Should food advertising be banned in an effort to reduce overeating?

Researchers show that overeating is as harmful as smoking. Therefore, advertising for food products should be banned, in the same way as cigarette advertising is banned in many countries.
To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Since the end of World War 2 the public’s consumption of food has grown exponentially, noticeably in first world but also in the richer classes of developing countries. The result has been an increase in obesity and its consequences. Some of the damage this over-consumption inflicts on the body can be severe, but a blanket ban of food advertising (similar to that placed on the tobacco industry) is not the most beneficial way to tackle the problem.

The first, and arguably greatest, problem with banning advertising is knowing where to draw the line. The decision as to what is a directly dangerous and irresponsible industry or what specific products are detrimental to health is not clear cut. Introducing an industry-wide advertising ban of foods, yet allowing online betting, luxury goods, pay-day loans and other dubious industries to continue, would seem hypocritical. If restrictions are likely to multiply and consume several industries, the concept is a slippery slope.

A better solution, at least at first (and one some governments are trying) is to aim for better nutritional information and education whilst simultaneously removing adverts that aim specifically at children. This seems a more evolved solution, although the theory may be better than the reality: the question as to how many people actually understand or adhere to advice is debatable. Nonetheless it is worth trying this approach across a generation to see its effect.

Yet perhaps the greatest answer to this problem would be to change the very culture of the food industry – a mountain of a task but one worth attempting. Currently it is too lucrative to produce cheap foods laden with chemicals that can be mass produced and marketed, and too easy for industries to misrepresent the benefits of certain ingredients such as sugar or salt. Changing to local organic produce, rather than sucrose-filled corn-based products, would solve more issues than advertising bans.

To conclude, whilst many would argue that a world without commercials would be an improvement, realistically it is impossible to eradicate all marketing and banning food advertising would open a can of worms. Better solutions lie in improving the food industry and the public’s relationship with it as a whole, and it is to here that governments should first turn their attention.