‘Junk food’ advertising is to be banned across all children’s media – including online and social – in a landmark decision to help tackle childhood obesity.
The new rules will ban the advertising of food or drink high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) across all non-broadcast media targeted at under-16s from July next year, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said.
The changes bring media such as print, cinema and, crucially, online and social media, into line with television, where strict regulation prohibits the advertising of unhealthy food to children.
They ban ads that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product from appearing in children’s media or other media where children make up more than 25 per cent of the audience.
The new restrictions also apply to TV-like content online, such as on video-sharing platforms or “advergames”, if they are directed at or likely to appeal particularly to children. A ban on companies using promotions, licensed characters or celebrities popular with children in ads for HFSS food or drink will be partly lifted for the advertising of healthier options. Shifting media habits among young people and evolving advertising techniques had fundamentally changed children’s relationship with media, CAP said.
The “significant” change would help protect the health and wellbeing of children and lead to a major reduction in the number of ads for HFSS food and drinks they see, said the organisation, which is responsible for writing and maintaining the UK advertising codes.
Ofcom’s latest figures show that young people aged between five and 15 now spend about 15 hours each week online, overtaking the time they spend watching a TV set.
CAP chairman 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.”
Jenny Rosborough, campaign manager at Action on Sugar, called for restrictions to be extended to programmes such as X Factor, which are hugely popular with children but exempt from restrictions because they fall outside children’s programming.
She said: “We welcome the news that CAP are banning the advertising of high fat, salt or sugar food or drink products in children’s non-broadcast media.
“We know that advertising influences children’s food preferences.
“However, we need to see bans on advertising go further, as they currently do not manage exposure to these adverts during popular family programmes such as The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.
“Levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes are worryingly high and everyone has a role to play.”