The government has begun public consolation on proposals to ban junk food ads from appearing on digital platforms, like YouTube and Facebook, as well as TV before a 9pm watershed.
It is the latest step from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in its attempts to curb the childhood obesity “epidemic”.
The consultation proposes that restrictions on social media and online streaming would be covered by the same 9pm watershed ban that it is seeking to impose on TV advertisers.
Further proposals include changing thresholds which allow foods to be advertised and placing time limits on junk food adverts.
The government has said that advertisers may be excluded from the ban if they can prove that they are not targeting children.
Public Health Minister Steve Brine said: "The NHS is already preparing to treat more and more children for the serious effects of extreme obesity in the future, so we have a duty to address the underlying causes because we believe passionately in our NHS."
Writing in the Sunday Times, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies added: “With more children going online, government policy needs to protect children, by adapting to the algorithms that target children with embedded adverts appealing to their age, location and preferences. The government will rightly look at how new rules for TV could be mirrored not just on streaming sites but on social media and YouTube too.”
However, the Advertising Association has slammed the plans. It pointed to a report it commissioned in anticipation of the consultation process, suggesting children’s exposure to ads featuring high fat, sugar and salt products both online and on TV is at a record low.
“International experience and independent research prove advertising bans have little impact on the wider societal issues that drive obesity. Rather, the way to address the problem is through local, targeted interventions that address key lifestyle factors including exercise and economic issues such as children growing up in poverty,” said the trade body’s chief executive Stephen Woodford.
“Advertising can play a critical role in supporting this, as already seen through initiatives such as ITV’s support for The Daily Mile which is having a positive and measurable impact on people’s lives. Any actions being considered must be proportionate and without a long-term, damaging effect on the UK media landscape.”
It comes after a ban on junk food ads was introduced to the Transport for London (TfL) network earlier this year. However, some in the industry have criticised its vague guidelines, which have seen fresh produce like bacon and butter prevented from appearing in OOH ads due to the high fat content.