Cartoon characters should be removed from all high-sugar foods in a bid to kick the nation’s “sugar habit” and drive down childhood obesity numbers, MP Tom Watson has said.
Speaking at the Advertising Association conference, he said: “Advertising has the power to take sugar off the table and reinvent the British breakfast.”
For years, certain cereals such as Frosties, Coco Pops and Nesquik have become synonymous with recognisable cartoon characters.
The shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport urged attendees, who were all leading figureheads from the advertising industry, to join together to stop the tide of modern health problems. This includes preventing children leaving school obese, helping those with type 2 diabetes to be able to come off medication and reducing the NHS budget by 10 per cent.
He added: “Everywhere our citizens look, on TV, online, on buses, on billboards, they are surrounded by adverts for foods laced with sugar. Those ads work.
“They’ve sold us the idea that breakfast means a bowl of sugary cereal. They’ve sold us the thought that thirst can only be truly quenched by a sugary, fizzy drink.”
Childhood obesity figures are at an all-time high with data released last year showing nearly twice as many children leaving primary school are classed as severely obese as those in reception.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said children are gaining weight at a drastic rate as they go through school and obesity levels were contributing to a “multibillion-pound ill-health time-bomb”.
During his speech, Mr Watson used powerful imagery to back up his comments. One image featured a jar full of teeth that had rotted from eating excess sugar that had been extracted from people’s mouths. Mr Watson told the audience that “advertising has an awesome power to shape our lifestyles”.
He added: “We face a public health crisis in the UK, and one of the main causes is refined sugar in our foods and drinks.
“The results are horrific: 26,000 children hospitalised with rotten teeth. The worst obesity rates in western Europe. And the catastrophe of type 2 diabetes, taking lives and costing the NHS £10 billion a year.
“I’m making it my political mission to change this. That’s why I’ve launched an independent commission into how we reverse the increase in type 2 diabetes in a single parliament.”
He is calling for social prescribing by GPs, more taxes on sugar in food and drinks, stronger regulations on packaging and labels and “radical changes” to the way junk food is marketed.
He added: “I want you to think deeply about how advertising could help transform the lives of Britain’s 3.7 million identified diabetics.”

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