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Act urgently on total junk food ad ban, say doctors and public

Watershed ban on junk food ads must apply across all media, not just child-specific TV programmes

Louise Prime

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Health charities, medical royal colleges and parents all want a total ban on junk food advertising to children, reveal poll results released today. The Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) argues that much tighter restrictions on advertising food high in fat, sugar and salt would benefit children’s health.

The OHA, whose more than 40 members include the British Heart Foundation, British Medical Association, Cancer Research UK, Children’s Food Campaign, Diabetes UK, Faculty of Public Health, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, UK Health Forum, campaigns to prevent obesity-related ill-health by addressing the influences that lead to excess bodyweight throughout life.

At present junk food may not be advertised on television around child-specific programmes, but is allowed during ‘family viewing time’, for example between 18:00 and 21:00. The OHA pointed out that the programmes most watched by children aren’t ‘children’s TV shows’ but entertainment programmes shown in the prime-time family viewing slot including Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice, Saturday Night Takeaway, and Bake Off, to which junk food advert restrictions don’t apply – and there are no restrictions for advertising through other viewing media, even cinema.

The OHA is calling for a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts, to be implemented urgently across all media devices and channels “to protect children from the harmful effects of marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt” – and for this watershed to include live TV, TV on demand, radio, all types of online, social media, apps, in-game, cinema and digital outdoor advertising such as billboards.

Its new survey, carried out online by YouGov Plc among a total sample size of 2,078 adults in mid-February 2019 (weighted to be representative of all UK adults aged 18+), found that the public supports these measures and that:

  • 69% of people agreed that children seeing junk food marketing contributes to childhood obesity.
  • 72% support a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts during popular family TV shows.
  • 70% support a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts online.
  • 68% support a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on digital advertising outside of the home (such as cinemas, digital posters at bus stops and on roadsides).

OHA lead Caroline Cerny said: “The evidence is clear: seeing junk food adverts influences what and how much our children eat. This can lead them to pester their parents to buy unhealthy products and consume excess calories and sugar.

“With over two-thirds of the public agreeing with the evidence – that junk food advertising contributes to childhood obesity – it is clear that urgent action is wanted as well as needed. The way children are consuming media is changing significantly, so any government policy needs to address adverts across a wide range of media channels, both in and out of the home. A 9pm watershed across all types of junk advertising is the clearest, most effective measure to ensure that advertising revenue cannot simply be displaced to other types of media, protecting children from the harms of junk food advertising wherever they may be”.

Dr Emma Boyland, senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool added: “Research has repeatedly demonstrated that exposure to unhealthy food advertising has a negative impact on children’s diets. What’s more, we know that children with overweight or obesity are more vulnerable to the influence of advertising, leading to them eating more calories than children with a healthy weight when they see junk food adverts. An update to the regulations is desperately needed.”

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