Cancer Research UK is fronting a call to ban junk food advertising on TV before 9pm to help tackle rising childhood obesity rates.
Amid the ongoing public and political debate around sugar, the charity has launched a ‘Junk Free TV’ campaign that will seek to put pressure on the UK government to remove spots for calorie-laced foods ahead of the watershed. The call-to-action follows a study into how such ads for unhealthy products influence kids’ eating habits and food choices.
Researchers from the charity spoke to kids aged between eight to 12 across the UK and asked them to watch videos advertising junk food. Most children said they had asked their parents for things they had seen on the TV with some describing the ads as “tempting”, “addictive” and saying that one made them want to “lick the screen.”
The researchers said that campaigns featuring celebrities, bright colours or funny voices were most likely to attract children.
The survey follows on from the announcement earlier this year that the UK government planned to implement a sugar tax on fizzy drinks, igniting a conversation around how brands could better incorporate health messaging into their marketing.
In May, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which sets codes of practice for all media ads in the UK except TV or radio spots, launched a consultation which seeks to limit advertising to children around food or drink which is high in fat, salt or sugar. If the new guidelines are introduced it could mean that the likes of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola will soon be prevented from using billboards, posters or digital ads to target children.
While Ofcom has had a blanket ban in place on junk food ads around children's TV programming for 10 years, Cancer Research said that these “aren’t enough”.
“Children are watching junk food adverts during family programmes where these restrictions don’t apply,” she continued, adding that the issue of children’s obesity was a “huge concern and a growing epidemic.”
“This is why we need regulations to stop junk food advertising on TV before the 9pm watershed to give children a better chance of a healthy life.”
TV chef and health campaigner Jamie Oliver launched a similar call last year, telling a panel of MPs on the health select committee: "We shouldn’t be advertising junk food high in salt, fat and sugar before 9 o’clock, end of story."