UK's Ofcom Under Pressure to Ban Junk Food Ads to Kids

24 March 2005

British ad trade weekly, Campaign, reports the UK Department of Health as being in unambiguous mode over food advertising directed at children.

Eschewing its usual ambivalence, a DoH press statement released earlier this week read: "Companies selling high-fat and high-sugar foods will still be able to advertise them to adults, who can make an informed choice ... They will not be able to do so to three-year-olds, who can't reasonably be expected to make that kind of decision for themselves."

Coming, as it does, in advance of a consultation exercise later this year by media regulator Ofcom, the DoH statement is significant, many onlookers seeing it as a clear signal of the government's expectations.

But a DoH spokeswomen denies this. "We are not dictating what the tighter broadcast rules will be," she insists.

The government statement lays down the rules of engagement for the upcoming consultation: "For TV advertising, Ofcom will consult the broadcasting and advertising industries to tighten the rules on broadcast advertising, so that at the times of day when children are most likely to be watching television, promotion of unhealthy food will not be broadcast."

Ofcom declined comment on the statement, save to add defiantly that "everything is still up for grabs".

Some see the hand of recently appointed education secretary Ruth Kelly in the government's new hardline stance. Her involvement may well stimulate adland's interest in blockbuster thriller The Da Vinci Code, which pits the ultra-reactionary Catholic organisation Opus Dei against The Priory of Sion - a still active European secret society founded in 1099.

Why so?

Secretary Kelly was revealed earlier this week as an Opus Dei member. In respect of advertising to children, however, she is unequivocally secular: "We will work with Ofcom to tighten the rules on broadcast advertising and sponsorship and promotion of food and drink," she said.

"We will secure the rules' effective implementation by broadcasters in order to ensure that children are properly protected from encouragements to eat too many high-fat, salty and sugary foods, both during children's programmes and at other times when large numbers of children are watching. If these rules do not work, we will legislate."

Data sourced from BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff