Ad watchdog to review rules around how brands market junk food to kids on TV and online

In 2017, non-broadcast rules were brought in line with TV and radio procedures

Rules around how food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) are marketed to children, both on TV and online, are to be reviewed to ensure they are “effective” in protecting young people.

The Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) which is responsible for the setting the industry standards enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has announced a two-pronged probe into the current guidelines.

First of all, the watchdog has issued a call for evidence around the impact junk food and drink TV ads have on children.

In tandem with this, it will review new restrictions outlined last year around how these products are targeted towards kids in non-broadcast settings – including online and OOH executions.

The industry has welcomed the move, with Stephen Woodford, the chief executive of the Advertising Association (AA) saying that as media consumption patterns change the industry has a responsibility to ensure they remain relevant.

He added: “Exposure of under 16s to HFSS advertising has fallen dramatically since comprehensive TV advertising restrictions were put in place over a decade ago and extended to cover all media in 2017. But the obesity rate among children has continued to rise over the same period, which demonstrates the complexity of other factors contributing to childhood obesity, such as demographics and socio-economic background.

“Our industry remains committed to meeting the highly complex issues around childhood obesity and looks forward to working with CAP, the ASA and government to meet this public health challenge."

Ofcom has had a blanket ban in place on junk food ads around children's TV programming for 10 years, and CAP claims that kids’ exposure to HFSS ads is 40% lower than it was in 2010.

However, like Woodford, the regulator suggested that this has not necessarily corresponded with a reduction in childhood obesity rates, and as such has called for evidence to ensure current TV rules at fit for purpose.

In 2017, non-broadcast rules were brought in line with TV and radio procedures, which meant that print, cinema, online TV, social media and outdoor campaigns were restricted in appearing in mediums targeted towards under-16s.

On the TV front, CAP will evaluate stakeholder evidence in autumn this year. It’s review of non-broadcast restrictions will kick off in July, with the body hinting it could add additional guidelines to “better achieve” the objections of the recently-introduced provisions.

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