Should the EU legislate to fight against obesity?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

A ban on advertising is not the right solution to fighting childhood obesity, argues Guillaume Vuillemey in this paper from the Institut Économique Molinari.

The author comments on a proposal from French consumer organisation “UFC-Que choisir” for a law that would ban advertisements that promote the fattest and most sweetened products during transmissions of programmes targeted at children. 

In parallel, the consumer organisation proposes a push towards consumption of healthy products by lowering VAT and the cost of advertising space for companies which promote healthy products, reports the author.

According to Vuillemey, such a regulation would only serve to “demonise” certain products in an arbitrary manner and lead to uncertain results concerning the obesity issue.

The decision to buy one product or another depends on individual choice and is therefore necessarily subjective, explains the author. One’s choice might take into account the healthiness of a product but other characteristics, such as gustative pleasure, are also taken into account, he continues. 

However, measures such as the UFC-Que chosir’s  proposal are based on a distinction between “healthy products” and products which contain “too much fat” or “too much sugar”, he adds.

This distinction is without foundation because the nature of a product – too sweetened or too fat – can only be established in an objective manner, argues Vuillemey. 

Only individuals can judge if one product is good or not for them, he adds. A chocolate bar could be bad for a diabetic child and good for a young sportsman, says the author. 

Moreover, banning some kinds of advertisement would equate to deceiving oneself over their effect on individuals, the author says. If parents and consumers do not want their children to eat unhealthy products, nothing prevents them from not buying it. 

Lastly, banning one type of advertisement in an arbitrary manner equates to depriving citizens a source of information that has an added-value for them and would impact on consumers’ freedom of choice, concludes the author. 

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