LONDON: The UK's Advertising Association says British children are now seeing fewer food and drinks ads than in 2003. The findings of the AA's Food Advertising Unit are its contribution to an upcoming government review which seeks to tackle the problem of childhood obesity.

The FAU's report comes after the imposition of new rules by media watchdog Ofcom earlier this year which have banned the advertising of 'junk' foods during or around programmes that are made for, or could appeal to, children under the age of ten.

Further restrictions on ads aimed at children under the age of 16 come into effect from the beginning of next year.

The FAU report shows, however, that exposure to food ads has been following a downward trend since well before the introduction of the new restrictions.

It says exposure by children aged between four and 15 to core category ads across all content and all commercial television channels declined by almost 22% between 2003 and 2006.

The decrease for younger children - those aged under 10 - is even more marked with a 29% fall in the seven weeks since the introduction of the new restrictions.

The report reveals that in 2006 the four to nine age group watched almost 26% less food advertising, 37% less soft drinks advertising and 20% less fast food advertising on TV.

It highlights research by the Food Standards Authority and Ofcom which shows advertising only has a modest effect on children's food preferences and that obesity must be tackled using a "holistic and wide-ranging approach".

In response to health lobbyists' calls for a pre-9pm watershed on all food and soft drinks ads, the FAU concludes it would be "a blunt instrument that would be disproportionate and unnecessary, given the new restrictions in place".

Comments AA ceo Baroness Peta Buscombe: "This report shows the progress already made by the responsible food and soft drink advertising industry which has taken voluntary steps even before the introduction of the new rules to change the nature and balance of advertising and promotions.

"We hope the Government will see this as a positive signal when it conducts an interim review this autumn."

Data sourced from the Advertising Association; additional content by WARC staff