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New rules ban junk food ads aimed at children

Industry acts following public consultation

Jo Carlowe

Thursday, 08 December 2016

The advertising industry has announced new rules banning unhealthy foods and drinks from media aimed at children.

The Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) has today announced the new restrictions on ads that promote high fat, salt or sugary (HFSS) food or drinks products on media targeted at under-16s. 

The ban will come into effect on 1 July 2017 and will apply across all non-broadcast media including print, cinema, online and social media. 

Key changes include:

  • Ads that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product cannot appear in children’s media
  • Ads for HFSS products cannot appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience
  • Ads for HFSS products will not be allowed to use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children; advertisers may now use those techniques to better promote healthier options
  • The Department of Health nutrient profiling model will be used to classify which products are HFSS

Bringing the non-broadcast advertising rules in line with the TV rules, the new restrictions will lead to a major reduction in the number of ads for HFSS food and drinks seen by children, states CAP. It will also mean ads for HFSS products will no longer be allowed to appear around TV-like content online, such as on video-sharing platforms or advergames, if they are directed at or likely to appeal particularly to children.

Chairman of CAP, James Best said: “Childhood obesity is a serious and complex issue and one that we’re determined to play our part in tackling. These restrictions will significantly reduce the number of ads for high, fat, salt or sugar products seen by children. 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.”

The CAP said the rules were a response to research suggesting children aged five to 15 spend about 15 hours online every watch, overtaking the time they spend watching television. 

These measures follow a full public consultation

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has welcomed the ban, but calls on the government to strengthen the rules around all advertising.

Professor Neena Modi, president of the RCPCH, said: “I am delighted that following the publication of draft legislation on the soft drinks industry levy earlier this week, a ban on advertising foods high in salt, sugar and fat in children’s media has now been announced by the Committees of Advertising Practice. This is another positive step forward in the fight to tackle the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity in children, and the damaging health effects of junk food and fizzy drinks.

“Children are influenced a great deal by advertising. There are shows which are not specifically targeted at children, that draw in thousands of children every week, and often have fast food adverts shown multiple times over the course of the broadcast. With over a fifth of children in the UK overweight or obese when they start primary school and a third by the time they reach year six, surely it is time for Government to strengthen rules around all advertising, and in particular ban the advertising of foods high in salt, sugar and fat on television before the 9pm watershed.”

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