Government U-turns: it will consider junk food TV ad ban under new plan to curb child obesity

Government U-turns on junk food TV ad ban as it reveals new plan to curb child obesity

The government is to begin talks on a potential ban of junk food advertising on TV before the 9pm watershed as part of a range of new measures announced today (24 June) to halve the number of obese children by 2030.

The government’s latest obesity plan follows the first “chapter” which was released in 2016, which brought in the fizzy drinks tax and a voluntary scheme for the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar in food and drink.

The 2016 plan also introduced tougher rules around advertising to under-16s across non-broadcast media (print, cinema, online and social media), but the government opted not impose regulations on marketing of junk food, a move welcomed by advertisers.

However, it has since faced pressure from a number of organisations, including Cancer Research, to ban adverts for foods high in fat and sugar prior to the 9pm watershed.

The government has since conceded, saying it will begin consultations on introducing new TV and online advertising restrictions “to prevent children from being targeted by these unhealthy products, and to incentivise companies to reduce the sugar and calories in the products they sell.”

It said this could include extending the current advertising watershed and limit the number of unhealthy food adverts shown during children’s programmes up to 9pm.

In the interim, the government has called on industry to “recognise the harm that adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt can cause.”

However, industry bodies have not welcomed the U-turn from the government.

“International experience and independent research has shown advertising bans have little impact on the wider societal issues that drive obesity, which is caused by the interaction of many complex factors and requires a multi-faceted solution,” said Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association.

“Here in the UK, interventions such as The Daily Mile in schools have been successful as they are simple, cost-free and inclusive and not only impact on obesity levels, but improve behaviour, academic performance and children’s wellbeing. This is exactly the sort of partnership needed to tackle Britain’s obesity challenge.”

James Barge, director of public affairs at ISBA said there is “no silver-bullet” to reducing childhood obesity and stressed the need for a “holistic and multi-dimensional response.”

“As such, whilst we oppose the blunt instrument of a 9pm watershed we will, as an evidence-led industry, support steps which can be proven to proportionately reduce children’s exposure to HFSS advertising,” he said.

“ISBA looks forward to seeing more details of the government’s proposed approach and to engaging constructively with a view to shaping a simple, evidence-led and proportionate outcome which supports the aim of meaningfully reducing childhood obesity levels.”

Tim Rycroft, director of corporate affairs at the Food and Drink Federation, added: “While the commitment to full consultation on these measures is welcome, tthere will be deep disquiet in the food and drink manufacturing sector. Advertising and promotions underpin the healthy, vibrant and innovative market for food and drink that UK shoppers love.”

Under the new obesity plan, the government will also consult on a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.

More immediate action will see the ushering in of new regulation to ban shops from offering special ‘two for the price of one’ deals for food high in sugar, fat or salt alongside rules which will require restaurants and takeaways to show the number of calories clearly on menus.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “It is near impossible to shield children from exposure to unhealthy foods. Parents are asking for help – we know that over three quarters of parents find offers for sugary sweets and snacks at checkouts annoying.

“It’s our job to give power to parents to make healthier choices, and to make their life easier in doing so.”

According to official figures, one in three children in the UK are now obese by the time they leave primary school.

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