kids advertising

TV ad regulators have insisted a peak-time ban on ads for junk food would be “disproportionate” given the moderate influence TV has on kids’ food choices.

The Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) called for the ban today (28 November) in a new report, which insisted the government should extend restrictions on TV ads for foods that were high in fat, sugar and salt to all programmes before the 9pm watershed, to help combat childhood obesity.

The OHA claimed there was a “loophole” in existing HFSS advertising rules, which meant that while there were restrictions on ads during shows watched by mainly children, they did not exist for peak-time family programmes, which were extremely popular with most youngsters.

“The most effective way to do this would be with a 9pm watershed,” said OHA, adding companies and brands “very closely associated with HFSS products” should not be allowed to sponsor family shows in the key 6pm-9pm period.

But CAP, which is responsible for writing and maintaining Ofcom’s UK Code of Broadcast Advertising, said the existing TV rules contained “strict content and scheduling restrictions on HFSS advertising that have helped reduce significantly the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children”.

It stressed restrictions were not designed to stop kids from seeing HFSS ads altogether, but to reduce children’s exposure to and the appeal of HFSS ads.

“The evidence, including two reviews of the HFSS restrictions, show that, given the moderate impact TV ads have on children’s food preferences, a 9pm watershed restriction would be disproportionate,” said a spokesman.

The Food & Drink Federation also defended existing ad guidelines, pointing out the UK had “one of the strictest advertising regulatory regimes in the world concerning the foods that can be advertised to children”.

Many food and drink suppliers were developing “their own responsible marketing guidelines and making voluntary commitments” an FDF spokesman added.

“The FDF and its members have in recent years demonstrated their commitment to tackling obesity. Large amounts of salt, fat and sugar have voluntarily been removed from product recipes and many portion sizes have been limited or reduced. These commitments will continue as we rise to the challenge of the latest government targets on calorie reduction.”

However, health campaigners have backed the OHA’s recommendations.

Extending the 9pm watershed to include HFSS ads would be “by far the simplest” next step to tacking childhood obesity, said Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator at Children’s Food Campaign. “This whole area was missed out of the Childhood Obesity Plan, and there’s been no pressure on companies to change their bad habits.”

A change to Ofcom procedures to ban HFSS ads from peak time would protect children from harm while involving no parliamentary legislative time, Clark told The Grocer. “It’s just a case of the government instructing Ofcom to change its rules.”

Action on Sugar’s campaign manager Jenny Rosborough said other advertising rules “had not had a meaningful effect” in the fight against childhood obesity, and a watershed for HFSS products was “definitely what we want”.