LONDON: Major food and drinks brands that promote products considered to be high in fat, salt or sugar could face a total ban on advertising to children in the UK.

The proposal is being considered by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the industry regulator, which launched a consultation at the end of last week.

A ban on unhealthy food ads aimed at under 16s already exists on TV, but new rules could see this extended to all media, including online channels, posters and cinema.

The news comes amid growing concern about levels of childhood obesity in the UK and the proposals also seek to reflect changes to viewing habits among children.

Research from Ofcom, the UK's media regulator, has shown that nearly all (96%) of 12- to 15-year-olds spent more time online than watching TV last year.

CAP said evidence has shown that advertising has a "modest effect" on children's food preferences – other factors include education and parental influence – but that even a relatively small positive impact from new advertising restrictions could make a "meaningful contribution".

CAP chairman James Best said: "Advertising is just one small factor in a very complex equation but we believe we can play a positive part in addressing an urgent societal challenge.

"In proposing new rules, our aim is to strike the right balance between protecting children and enabling businesses to continue advertising their products responsibly."

There are three main proposals under consideration. These include the introduction of new rules to limit where ads for food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) can be placed in all non-broadcast media.

Secondly, to explore through consultation whether the new rule should prohibit HFSS product advertising in media targeted at children under 12 or under 16.

In addition, CAP is considering applying the existing rules that prohibit the use of promotions and licensed characters and celebrities popular with children to HFSS product advertising only. That would allow more creative ways for healthier foods to be advertised to children.

In other words, the third proposal could be good news for food and drinks brands judged to be healthy, although it might also see the end of famous cartoon characters featured in UK ads, such as the Honey Monster from the Sugar Puffs ads or Tony the Tiger, who has been promoting Kellogg's Frosties since 1951.

Data sourced from CAP, Daily Mail; additional content by Warc staff