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Doctors back TV junk food advertising ban

Government consultation sets out plans to ban unhealthy food advertising before 9pm

Mark Gould

Monday, 18 March 2019

Doctors are backing government proposals to ban junk food adverts on TV and online before 9pm as part of the fight against childhood obesity.

The UK has amongst the highest levels of obesity in western Europe. One in three children leave primary school overweight or obese and the number of children classed as seriously obese is at a record high.


A new Department of Health and Social Care consultation document published today wants to gather views on how the government can reduce children’s exposure to HFSS (high in fat, salt and sugar) advertising, to reduce children’s overconsumption of these products.

Major crisp, confectionery and sugary drinks companies spend around £143m on advertising in the UK every year.

The government wants any future advertising restrictions to be focused on HFSS products that are linked to childhood obesity and it wants to encourage brands to make their products healthier.

The consultation also provides an impact assessment setting out what the costs to businesses and health benefits would be.

Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, the chair of the British Medical Association board of science, said the 9pm watershed was a welcome step: "Far from being too interventionist, restriction of junk food marketing for children is absolutely imperative," she said.

“The current restrictions on advertising of unhealthy foods during children’s daytime TV programmes are no longer fit for purpose. Young people’s viewing extends well beyond these parameters, including family-oriented programmes and viewing content online. A 9pm watershed on TV, and equivalent protection online, is crucial to really limit the amount of marketing children and young people are exposed to and influenced by.

“The government and regulatory bodies have a duty to protect children’s health and part of this means preventing them from being prime targets for junk food advertising. This consultation is a welcome step and should inform part of a population-wide approach so we can give children the healthy start in life they deserve.”

And TV chef Jamie Oliver said that if we don’t find effective ways to improve children’s health, UK children will live shorter lives than their parents.

“It’s a fact that kids are hugely influenced by junk food ads – so the media and the food industry has a real opportunity here to do something about it.”

On Sunday, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson attacked fast food chain McDonald’s forthcoming “Monopoly” promotion as a “grotesque marketing ploy” which he said encourages over-eating, labelling it a “danger to public health” on Twitter. Mr Watson wrote to McDonald’s UK asking for the competition, due to start on Wednesday, to be cancelled.

The letter states: “It is unacceptable that this campaign aims to manipulate families into ordering junk food more frequently and in bigger portions, in the faint hope of winning a holiday, a car, or a cash prize many would otherwise struggle to afford."

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