Junk Food Advertisers Face Total Online Ban

Campaigners against childhood obesity welcomed a consultation on Government proposals to ban online adverts promoting food high in fat, sugar, and salt.

The move, that goes further than proposals announced earlier this year, could lead to advertisers facing fines if they break the rules.

Matt Hancock, England’s Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.”

The advertising industry described it as a “kick in the teeth” when the sector was struggling to cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children Confronted With 15 Billion Junk Food Adverts a Year

Ministers described obesity as one of the biggest health crises faced by the country with 63{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of adults in England classed either as overweight or obese. It said 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese.

Research has suggested that children are exposed to more than 15 billion adverts each year for products high in fat, sugar, and salt via digital platforms.

The 6-week consultation follows the Government’s obesity strategy launched in July. Among the policies announced was a 9pm watershed on advertising junk food products on TV and online by the end of 2022.

“We want to support people of all ages to make healthier choices,” said Jo Churchill, the public health minister.

Healthy Food Firms ‘Have Nothing to Fear’

The consultation was welcomed by the Children’s Food Campaign. Fran Bernhardt said:  “A total end to online high fat, salt, and sugar advertising marks a clear and resolute line; it says to industry that if they want to advertise food and drinks, their products need to be healthy.

“Meanwhile companies advertising healthier food and drinks have nothing to fear.”

Caroline Cerny from the Obesity Health Alliance said: “Junk food advertising works. That’s why food companies spend hundreds of thousands every year, keeping their unhealthy food products in the spotlight.

“In the fast-moving and evolving digital space, there are many different types of advertising content and techniques that brands use that mean junk food takes centre stage in children’s minds, whether they are watching videos, on social media or playing games. Regulation in this complex environment is challenging, which is why totally removing junk food adverts is the most effective way to ensure children get the protection they deserve.”

However, the Advertising Association called the proposals “severe and disproportionate” and predicted they would harm the UK’s creative sector and food and drink businesses.

In a statement, it said: “If this policy of an outright ban goes ahead, it will deal a huge blow to UK advertising at a time when it is reeling from the impact of COVID-19.

“This consultation has landed just as we have entered another period of lockdown, with all the heightened uncertainty this creates for people and businesses right across the country.”

Tackling obesity had become more urgent as evidence emerged of a link to more serious health effects from COVID-19. Nearly 8{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units were morbidly obese, compared with 2.9{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of the general population, official figures showed.

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