Children are seeing 11.5 seconds of advertising for high-fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products per day, a historic low according to new research.
The Advertising Association (AA) published its report into how much so-called ‘junk food’ advertising affects childhood obesity in the UK as the government prepares to consult on a proposed 9pm watershed for all HFSS ads – something the industry body is vehemently opposed to.
It found that children’s exposure to this kind of advertising has dramatically reduced over recent years, with the average child seeing around 11.5 seconds on TV and online a day.
Industry bodies have opposed the proposal, The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (Isba) called it a “blunt instrument" while the AA has said that implementing further restrictions would not be the “silver bullet” for rising childhood obesity.
“The UK already has among the strictest and most effective restrictions on the exposure of children to the advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar anywhere in the world,” said chief executive Stephen Woodford. “A continuing focus on the failed strategy of further advertising restriction is founded on the misplaced belief that children are ‘bombarded’ by HFSS advertising. To the contrary, the rise in obesity has occurred during a decade of declining exposure to HFSS advertising, and declining calorie intake.”
The report suggested that if exposure to food adverts is a credible factor in obesity prevalence, it would be expected that the dramatic reduction in exposure to HFSS advertising over the past 10 years would have had a more significant impact on child obesity levels.
It cited Ofcom’s data which suggested that between 2008 (when the current regulations that prevent junk food ads appearing around TV shows likely to appeal to under-16s) and 2010 exposure to HFSS ads on TV had fallen by 37%.
Since 2010, BARB data has indicated there has been a 41% fall in all food advertising exposure by children.
“Evidence in the report suggests that a lack of exercise is what is driving the continued prevalence of obesity among certain groups in the UK, rather than the food itself,” Woodford continued.
“Any effective solution must focus first and foremost on countering the dramatic declines in physical activity and calories expended. This report demonstrates with how advertising can play a key role in promoting healthy lifestyles, alongside real-world solutions to meet the challenge of obesity.”
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed the watershed proposals last June as part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s plan to halve childhood obesity by 2030.
Health campaigners have backed the plan, believing drastic action is needed to tackle the nation’s public health "crisis".
In London, mayor Sadiq Khan waved through legislation preventing all adverts for food and non-alcoholic drinks high in fat, salt and/or sugar and considered on the Transport for London (TfL) network.
It came into effect on 25 February and has been widely criticised for its ‘well-intentioned’ but ultimately flawed execution because of the lack of specific on what foods would comply or not.
Organic-food home-delivery company Farmdrop recently revealed that to get an OOH advert though the new regulations it was forced to remove products including bacon, butter and jam from the shot of fresh produce (picutred).
Woodford has argued there is "no clear evidence" that the Khan's TfL ban would solve the problem of obesity, saying there are "far better ways to achieve this goal".
The AA's report confirms findings from a similar study by the Advertising Standards Authority earlier this year which suggested kids' exposure to TV ads for alcohol, gambling and junk food has declined in recent years.
Overall, between 2013 and 2017 children’s exposure to TV ads in general has declined by 29.7%, falling from 229.3 ads per week to 161.2.
In 2017, only one of the average 161.2 TV ads watched per week were for alcohol products while only 2.8 ads promoted gambling products and 9.6 were for HFSS products.