New advertising legislation is set to be introduced, banning junk food advertising from all ‘children’s media’ as part of the battle against childhood obesity.
From 1 July, any ads for foods or drinks with high levels of fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) are prohibited from appearing in non-broadcast media aimed towards under-16s, following the implementation of rules created by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).
These changes will ensure that non-broadcast media, including online and social media, are held to the same standard as television, where there are already regulations in place to forbid the advertising of unhealthy food to children.
The introduction of these rules would put an end to advertising that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product from being accessible in any form of media for which over a quarter of the audience is made up of children.
Restrictions will also be enforced onto any ‘TV-like content’ on the internet, including video-sharing platforms such as YouTube, if the content is targeted towards children.
The latest figures given by Ofcom state that children between the ages of five and 15 spend around 15 hours online each week, greatly surpassing the amount of time they spend watching TV.
CAP chairman James Best said: “These measures demonstrate the advertising industry’s continuing commitment to putting the protection of children at the heart of its work.
“The new rules will alter the nature and balance of food advertising seen by children and play a meaningful part in helping change their relationship with less healthy foods.”
However, the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 national health charities, campaign groups and Royal Medical Colleges, said the new rules were only a “small step in the right direction”.
It said: “For too long children have been relentlessly bombarded with junk food adverts online, on billboards outside schools and at the cinema.
“But just like the problems with current TV rules, we are concerned they don’t go far enough and loopholes mean they only apply when over 25% of the audience is children.
“This will be impossible to monitor and mean millions of children will still be exposed to adverts which we know leads them to unhealthy food choices. We need rules that are fit for purpose and reflect the way our children watch and engage with media online and on TV.”
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “It is encouraging to see CAP supporting further restrictions on advertising of high sugar, salt and fat products to young people.
“The real test will be on whether it has any impact. We’re especially interested in how this will reduce young people’s exposure to advertising of these products across all non-broadcast media, including online.”