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UK aims to cut junk food ads out of kids’ media diet

In a move intended to help address increasing obesity problems, the UK is getting tough on all online ads aimed at children for food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS foods). The Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) is proposing a ban from July 1st, 2017. The restrictions also apply to all other non-broadcast media, such as social media, cinema, print and billboard advertising where kids under 16 are at least 25% of the audience. The Department of Health’s nutrient profiling model will be used to classify which products are regarded as HFSS.

This is in addition to the proposed sugar tax on soft drinks reported earlier this year which is still progressing despite virulent industry opposition.


To be blunt, Britain is one of the fatties of Europe, with 58% of women and 65% of men recorded as overweight or obese in 2014, and ranking 9th in children aged 2 to 19 and 8th for adults 20+ years out of the 34 OECD countries. In England alone, 31.2% of children aged between two and 15 were either overweight or obese.

The ban on the advertising of junk food during children’s TV programmes has been in place in the UK since 2007, and at the time was regarded as a global first by the World Health Organisation. But new Ofcom data shows that the 5 to 15 age group now spends more time online than watching TV at around 15 hours a week online.

The proposed new ban is regarded as long overdue, with critics suggesting that it could go even further and extend to TV programmes such as talent shows or online videos which are popular with children but currently exempt as they are not technically children’s programming. Or go even further, and ban all unhealthy food ads before the bewitching hour of the 9 pm watershed!

The ban includes the use of promotions, licensed characters or celebrities popular with children in ads, unless they are being used to “better promote healthier options”. The future for existing branded characters such as Tony the Tiger and Ronald McDonald is unclear as they are banned from promotional material but not food packaging yet, but may still see them confined to a footnote in the history of the brands!screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-10-33-46-am

Reactions are mixed, but generally positive.

The ban is “fully supported” by the industry, said Ian Wright, head of the Food and Drink Federation; a view echoed by Richard Lindsay from the Institute of Practioners in Advertising (IPA).

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the lobby group the Children’s Food Campaign commented that “ultimately, the new rules are only as good as the body which enforces them. We hope that from July 2017 CAP and the Advertising Standards Authority will ensure companies follow both the letter and the spirit of these new rules, and close any loopholes which arise.” Loopholes such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram accounts, or a child orientated YouTube Vlogger for example.

Action on Sugar called for an independent monitor as, at the end of the day, the industry is self-regulating.

James Best, chairman of CAP who introduced the ban, stated: “Our tough new rules are a clear demonstration that the ad industry is willing and ready to act on its responsibilities and puts the protection of children at the heart of its work.”

Andy Duncan, chairman of the Advertising Association, said: “This is a brilliant example of self-regulation at its best. As expectations in society go up we have to match that. And if we can’t do that through self-regulation, in the end we will lose the right to self-regulate.”

The new rules are some of the strictest in the world. It’s good to see them take a stand. At the end of the day, arguably you can’t ask for more than that!

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