Announcing the “second chapter” of its childhood obesity plan, the Department of Health and Social Care called on the industry “to recognise the harm that adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt can cause”.
As part of this exercise it will be consulting on the introduction of new TV and online advertising restrictions aimed at limiting children’s exposure to unhealthy products.
Among the options being considered are an extension of the advertising watershed beyond the current time of 9pm or tighter controls on the number of unhealthy food adverts shown during children’s programmes before 9pm.
In addition, ministers have floated the possibility of banning the sale of caffeine-laden energy drinks to children, while stores could be prevented from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts or including it in buy-one-get-one-free deals.
Cafés, restaurants and takeaways also face having to display consistent calorie labelling on menus.
Inevitably, no-one appeared happy with the proposals; for campaigners they don’t go far enough, while for brands and advertisers they go too far.
Tim Rycroft, director of corporate affairs at the Food and Drink Federation, spoke of a “deep disquiet” among the organisation’s members, adding that “advertising and promotions underpin the healthy, vibrant and innovative market for food and drink that UK shoppers love”.
And Stephen Woodford, chief executive at the Advertising Association, pointed out that the advertising industry is already constrained by strict rules: high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) advertising is banned across all media where under-16s make up more than 25% of the audience.
He argued that interventions such as the Daily Mile in primary schools are more effective – and this is another area the government is keen to promote alongside things like cycle training.
Such initiatives, he said “have been successful as they are simple, cost-free and inclusive and not only impact on obesity level, but improve behaviour, academic performance and children’s wellbeing”.
Sourced from Department of Health & Social Care, Guardian, MediaTel; additional content by WARC staff