Consumers across Europe favor government health warnings on foods with high fat and sugar content but are still divided in their support of a ban on advertising to children, according to a survey conducted by KRC Research, a division of Weber Shandwick.

But while one in ten European consumers rates obesity as the most important health threat facing society, a significant majority is against taxation on foods or a ban on advertising to children.
In a survey of more than 2,000 consumers in France, Germany, Spain and the U.K., obesity was the fourth most-mentioned problem after cancer, alcoholism/drug addiction and heart disease but ahead of other chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

However, asked whether they would prefer legislation or voluntary action on issues such as labelling, consumer education and marketing practices, the majority said they would prefer to see voluntary action by food and drink manufacturers. Fifty three per cent are opposed to a ban on advertising to children.

There are mixed opinions about who is responsible for obesity among children. In the U.K. and Germany parents are viewed as being very responsible, while in France and Spain consumers believe that responsibility lies with the fast food industry. Interestingly, fewer consumers say the confectionery (33 percent) or soft drinks (25 percent) industries are as responsible.

Only 32 per cent of those surveyed considered advertising aimed at children as very responsible for causing obesity.

“The issue of obesity is extremely complex and there are no simple solutions,” said Colin Byrne, CEO of Weber Shandwick, UK & Ireland. “If we’re going to make any inroads in decreasing the number of people suffering from obesity, it’s going to require the public and private sectors to work side-by-side toward a common goal.”